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And the academy goes to...: DL High School set to begin academy model with next year's freshmen

(Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)

The end of the school year is so close students can taste it, but the Detroit Lakes High School administration and teachers are already beginning to think about classes next fall, planning to implement the new academy model for the incoming freshmen.

The transition won't be a quick one, though. Principal Darren Wolf says getting to this point has taken a lot of planning and, it's going to take a lot more, but they're ready to begin the phase-in of the new curriculum, having just hired two new teachers to teach freshmen seminar courses.

"Freshmen seminar will be a class that's high school 101," said Wolf. "There will be a lot about getting to know yourself."

In freshman seminar students will be able to explore their interests and career potential, taking career aptitude tests and doing other activities to show them career paths they may enjoy.

The freshmen will also be split into two groups, a structure Wolf says is more efficient for helping the students and will encourage a little healthy competition.

"We want there to be a positive competition between the two teams," said Wolf, adding that the groups won't be exclusive, though, meaning friends in different groups will still get to see each other periodically through the day, maybe with a shared lunch or electives.

Other than the new freshman seminar and being split into groups, the high school won't be altering too much.

The new model isn't meant to be a sweeping change—the administration and staff are still trying to solidify a plan for the new model, researching as much as they can, visiting schools that have already gone academy, and hosting a speaker in May who will talk about team building.

"You don't just buy this [model] in a box and implement it," said Wolf. "When you build these things, you have to come back to the community."

So far, Wolf says the community has been very receptive and helpful. The high school already has good working relationships with businesses like BTD, Essentia Health, and Ecumen, through the school-to-work program, but they're still looking to grow that business-school relationship.

Other schools that have successfully gone academy model have created governance boards, a committee on the school board level, to better connect the community with the school and find good career pathways to offer to students.

"We want these to be high-wage, high-potential jobs," said Wolf, adding that the school also needs to keep a finger on the pulse of industries that need workers in the community to help promote those industries to students.

The freshmen won't be required to pick an academy or career pathway next year—that comes at the end of sophomore year—but when they do pick, they will have academies like healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, and business/entrepreneurship, since those are the industries that are strong in the community.

Once students pick an academy, they will be able to explore different "career pathways."

For example: within an academy like health care, there may be pathways like nursing, counseling, or radiology that a student can focus on, potentially graduating with a certificate or college credit that will count towards a future degree.

However, picking an academy isn't end-all, be-all for students. They're still able to switch, but Wolf says most of the academy schools he has visited haven't had a lot of students switch, maybe 10 per class.

"They realize there's more flexibility in their academy than they think," Wolf said, adding that an academy model is more about putting electives at the forefront of education.

Even after they've chosen an academy, students are still getting their core classes—and still able to explore other interests through global electives.

The biggest piece of the academy model is just allowing students to get some "real world" work experience and try out careers.

Wolf said one of the biggest patterns he noticed at other schools was students were able to try out careers and find out what they don't like.

"Maybe they find out they don't like blood. So they don't want to be a nurse," he said, "but there's more careers in that academy that they're interested in."

In the end, it's not about making freshman pick a career path. It's about showing students their options. "It doesn't really narrow kids' focus," said Wolf. "It gives them a direction to look."