This school year’s opening bell rang in a new era at the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD).
Beginning now and by the fall of 2011, Gold Seal Programs of Choice will be changing students’ focus from just getting a high school diploma to graduating with certified strengths for post-secondary career paths. Those paths may lead to either higher education or immediate entry into the workforce with marketable credentials for jobs in many industries.
“We are preparing for a world we can’t even imagine, because it’s changing so quickly,” said FWISD Superintendent Melody Johnson. “This is just the beginning.”
Tailored to students’ interests, plans call for each high school to offer Gold Seal programs next year for careers in high-demand areas in North Texas such as health science technology, architecture/construction, aerospace engineering, information technology, arts and audiovisual technology, culinary arts and advanced media.
“Goodbye, old mass-production model of education,” the district’s annual report states. “Hello, new Gold Seal Programs of Choice. These highly specialized courses of study target areas that strongly interest students and provide hands-on, real-world experiences to prepare them for the job market of the future.”
“A workforce pipeline can’t be built by classroom education alone. Students must see a purpose in classroom instruction to remain motivated,” said Cynthia Miller, the Chamber’s senior director of Workforce/Education. “Gold Seal will help employers easily identify high school programs that correlate with their business endeavors.”
Budgets and program lineups should be ready for school board consideration by October, administrators say.
The programs eventually will extend into middle schools where students will select and begin studies for career paths. “We know kids might change their mind, but we want them going into high school with a (career) vision in mind,” Mike Sorum, FWISD chief academic officer, told the school board in a March presentation.
Two Gold Seal programs launched this month:
– Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA) at 1066 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth’s first single-gender public school, provides 75 sixth-grade students and 75 seventh-grade students with advanced academics and a focus on Science, Math, Engineering and Technology (STEM) courses. Students were selected according to a number of criteria, including academic performance, attendance, student leadership and behavior, teacher assessment and an essay.
A Young Men’s Leadership Academy will open next year. Both single-gender academies will relieve students of social and cultural pressures found in coeducational settings, administrators say, and will help them to concentrate on studies and development of personal strengths. Both academies eventually will extend through the 12th grade.
Led by Principal Mia Hall, YWLA partners with the Addison-based Foundation for the Education of Young Women; Girls, Inc. of Tarrant County, and Motorola, which has provided a $25,000 grant.
– Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences (TABS) at W.C. Stripling Middle School opened with a $720,000 grant from the Sid Richardson Foundation.
The “school within a school” partners with the University of North Texas Health Science Center in preparing 74 eighth graders gifted in math and science for degree programs and careers in biotechnology, biomedical science research and medical fields.
Administrators expect TABS enrollment to grow to more than 400 students in grades 9-12 by 2013.
A third Gold Seal program, Southwest High School’s Southwest Academy of Petroleum Engineering and Technology, began its second year this month. The academy partners with the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). Students will graduate fully prepared for college or the energy-related workplace where they can begin careers in areas such as chemical, graphic or computer engineering, geology and computer science.
Industry experts provide extra training for teachers. The IPAA brings engineers into the classroom to mentor students and share special insights. Field trips include visits to production sites where students see how their lessons apply in the professional world.
Such private-sector involvement and mentoring are vital to Gold Seal students’ success, Johnson said.
Gold Seal programs “will require time and resources, human and financial,” Johnson said. “But we owe this to our children, to their future and our own.”