NEWS RELEASE, 10/25/99

UC Berkeley program lends expertise to set up Seattle career academies

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- About 65 Seattle high school students are breaking into the biotechnology industry this fall thanks to a new partnership between the schools and a program based at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Education.

The expertise to establish the biotechnology "career academy" and other similarly focused programs for Seattle's 10 high schools comes from the Career Academy Support Network, a center housed in UC Berkeley's education school.

The Seattle-Berkeley alliance came into being with the announcement this summer of a grant of almost a half-million dollars from the Stuart Foundation in San Francisco.

Career academies are high school programs that group about 50 students together with the same teacher for two, three or four years while focusing instruction on an industry or occupational theme. As students fulfill college entrance requirements, they also acquire work-related skills, knowledge and contacts. Employers provide mentors and internships. Students become more connected to their communities through studies and hands-on involvement.

Academy backers predict such programs will lead to lower school dropout rates, higher academic performance and less confusion among young people about their personal direction in life.

The first career academy opened in Philadelphia in 1969. The concept spread to California in the 1980s, and there are now more than 200 around the state.

"We believe strongly that career academies address the central problem holding back the achievement of far too many high school youth - the lack of engagement in their school work," said Charles Dayton, director of UC Berkeley's Career Academy Support Network.

"And we believe that higher levels of engagement lead to high performance and the attainment of standards," he added.

"What we're about is not employment, but engagement," said Sheperd Siegel, manager of School to Work Systems for Seattle Public Schools.

The Seattle project is the fourth major assignment for UC Berkeley's Career Network. It already has worked with school districts in Oakland, Atlanta and Illinois. The center provides information to states, school districts and individual campuses about how best to build and support career academies.

Siegel, who earned his doctorate at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education, said he spent time researching the academy idea. Although academies may at first strike some observers as divisive, they ultimately create strong, interdisciplinary efforts that unite educators around their young students, he said.

The network "has developed a national consensus on the key design principles of high school career academies," Dayton said. "They include small learning communities; a college preparatory, career-related curriculum that can lead to college, work or both upon high school graduation; and strong partnerships with the community, especially employers and institutions of higher learning."

In addition to a high level of student interest, project coordinator Dr. Alan Weisberg said the academy concept is attracting strong and essential support from the city's business community.

"There are industry people just dying to get their hands on a project like this," said Siegel. "They all have worker shortages."

While Seattle authorities originally forecast as many as 20 academies within three years, Weisberg said the number likely will range from six to nine over that period to better ensure quality and success.

"We're off to a great start," Siegel said.


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