In 2015, Epic School Partnerships (ESP) began partnering with the leadership at Valley High School located in Santa Ana, California.
As the ESP team collaborated with the Valley staff to identify the school’s strengths, we found that the students in their career academies reported feeling a strong connection to both their academy community and to the Valley community as a whole. By analyzing the data, we found that students involved in academies were twice as likely to graduate from high school with the skills needed to enter the workforce and or attend post-secondary education. However, only about half of the students were participating in the academies at that time. 9th graders were not offered an academy and as 10th graders they were given the option of opting out. Once the leadership at Valley realized that students in academies were more engaged and more connected to the school community, they decided to transition Valley to a school that has wall-to-wall academies.
Over the past year and a half, the ESP team has supported Valley’s goal to have all of its students participating in academies by providing technical assistance in the development, growth, and implementation of a wall-to-wall academies model. With over 40 years worth of research showing that the academy model is one of the best strategies for high school improvement and reform, increasing the likelihood of high school graduation particularly for at-risk students and Latino and African American males, it has been the school’s mission to build on the strength of their academies and ensure that all students have the opportunity be part of an academy community. As they have made this shift, the school leadership and ESP team have been intentional about engaging a diverse group of stakeholders throughout the process to ensure school-wide buy-in. The wall-to-wall academies design team is made up of teachers, administrators, students, parents, community partners, and staff from High School Inc.
During the 2015/2016 school-year, the design team met monthly to prepare for wall-to-wall implementation in the 2016/2017 school year. The team worked closely with the counseling department to design a new master schedule that created academy cohorts clustered around six career themes and cross-disciplinary teams organized around these cohorts with common prep periods for staff collaboration. The academies that emerged were:
- Automotive, Transportation and Logistics
- Culinary Arts & Hospitality
- Global Business
- Health Care
- New Media
High School Inc. is a non-profit located on Valley High School’s campus. Their goal is to provide small learning environments, multiple pathways to student success, and career academies to help students acquire specific skills needed for employment in high-tech industries. They partner with the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce and Santa Ana Unified School District and their success is made possible by the coordinated efforts of industry-led academy councils, businesses, specially trained faculty and post secondary education institutions.
Starting in fall of 2016, all 9th and 10th graders at Valley High School were enrolled in an academy with the goal of having 100% of Valley students in an academy over the next two years as additional cohorts are added. In addition to the academy design, there has been a drastic improvement in the number of courses offered at Valley that meet UC’s A-G requirements. Change takes time, and can sometimes be difficult, but Valley is committed to this process because career academies have the ability to offer stronger connections to the educational needs and interests of individual students. Academies not only have the potential to give students strong content knowledge, but they also give students opportunities to develop other skills essential for both college and career – collaboration, critical thinking skills, time management, and goal setting skills – all of which promote hands-on learning and are needed to meet the demands of today’s economy.
Because of Valley’s commitment to providing all students with the opportunities to develop the skills needed to be college and career ready, they are transforming their structures and strategies resulting in higher graduation rates, lower drop out rates, and students who are better prepared with the skills they need for life after high school.