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Rockford Students Getting Used To Career Academies

Mike Moen/WNIJ

Students at  Rockford’s Jefferson High School are getting used to the school's new career academies program. At the start of the school year, we met two students taking the journey.

A month into the school year, WNIJ News returned to Jefferson to hear how they’re adapting.

At the end of first period on a typical school day, Jefferson students are filling the halls, headed to their next class. That next class could include curriculum that goes beyond the traditional standards.

Last year, Jefferson gradually introduced a program that blends high school learning with four sections of courses that focus on various career paths. Now, this pilot program is part of every grade level at Jefferson. It’s also getting off the ground this year at other public high schools in Rockford. What’s being done here seems to reflect a renewed push in the U.S. to embrace career-themed learning.

Sophomore Juliana Solis is in the human and public services academy. When we introduced Juliana, she said she chose that path because she wants to be a federal agent. Now that she’s a month into the program, She says things don’t feel all that different in the classroom. But there’s one thing she has noticed.

“People seem more interested in school, because they’re learning more about what they want to pursue – not just ‘Oh, I have to go to school',’’ Juliana said.

For herself, Juliana says she would like to see more interaction with the instructors.

“I know it’s the whole beginning of the academy, but I hope it transitions more into what we would expect” Juliana said.

Program administrator Judy Gustafson says like students, teachers are trying to adapt to this new program.

“As each teacher gets comfortable with what it means to be an academy teacher, what will go better is we will refine our curriculum, we will refine our processes,” Gustafson

Senior Gerardo Castillo says he still wants to enter the medical field. He’s enrolled in the health sciences academy. But he says he and his friends are a little bummed, because as seniors, they will never get the program’s full effect.

“We have health occupations and health orientations, which is like a basic class. And my friends get real bored in there,” Gerardo said.

But Gerardo says even if they have limited exposure, they realize the importance of what they’re taking part in.

“They like it because it is a basic requirement. I’ve heard that some nursing departments really like it that kids are in that class,” Gerardo said.

Gerardo says he hopes younger students seize the opportunity to get a jump start on their career paths by taking these courses.

Both Juliana and Gerardo say they still hear chatter from some students, who wonder if they might want to switch their career paths. That echoes concerns from peers who feel that maybe they’re being forced to settle on a career path before they’re ready to make that choice.

Still, they say the general mood around campus is that this approach might be doing what it was intended to do: getting students more engaged and on a path toward a profession.


Here is a linkto a recent study funded by the U.S. Department of Education. It looked at the effectiveness of the high school career academy model.

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