Choosing a Theme
Academies usually start with one or a few teachers or administrators learning about this approach
and deciding it would be a good thing for their high school to have. This leads inevitably to the
questions: What next? And, how do we get from thinking this is a good idea to actually starting one?
While there is no pat formula for this, usually the next step is sampling interest more broadly in the
school and community. Share the information that has made you interested with other teachers, the
principal and other administrators, guidance counselors, and members of the Board of Education.
Others that should be consulted, because they too will have a stake in an academy, include leading
employers in the community, local institutions of higher education, parents, and students.
Experience suggests that while an excited teacher or two can provide good leadership, they cannot
make an academy successful by themselves. All the stakeholders listed above need to be on board.
One of the first and most important decisions in starting a new academy is the choice of career field.
Academies draw on the inherent interest students have in learning about some feature of the world
of work to motivate them to take seriously their core academic subjects as well. Thus the field needs
to be one that holds interest for students. It also needs to be one with interested employers in the
community who will provide the support needed for an academy: advisory board members,
speakers, field trip hosts, mentors, and internships. And it needs to be an industry that is healthy
and growing, so there will be jobs there when academy graduates are ready for them.
The career field also needs to be well defined in terms of breadth. Too narrow a career field will limit
employers and stunt student interest. "Radiation technician" is too narrow; "health" is better. Too
broad a career field will make it impossible to identify relevant employers or curriculum. "Computers"
is too broad; "media" or "information technology" is better. Economists usually categorize economic
activity into industries. While there is no universally agreed upon taxonomy of industries, the U.S.
Department of Education organized career-oriented instruction into 16 career clusters.
NAF supports three career academy themes:
- Academy of Finance
- Academy of Information Technology
- Academy of Travel and Tourism
Schools with academies in these career areas have access to NAF’s industry-validated curriculum,
and receive staff development from industry experts and experienced educators. Academy teachers
also contribute to NAF’s development and revision of existing curriculum. NAF also supports
academies in these career themes by helping provide connections with national and local industries
in these fields.
A program considering starting an academy may not know which theme to implement. The Year of
Planning program is the ideal course for schools to take in order to receive technical assistance in
developing consensus among all academy partners, including students, as to which theme to
implement. Those schools that eventually choose themes supported by NAF will become NAF
Member programs upon completion of an Academy Implementation Plan.