Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

The Payoff

Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

The Payoff

Article excerpt

Cultivating Potential, Academy Style

Eighteen-year-old Ronnie Houck doesn't wear cowboy boots. And he wants everyone to know that the Agritechnology Academy at Southfork High School in Stuart, Florida, isn't made up of a bunch of cowboys.

A facet of the tech prep movement, the Agritechnology Academy has given Houck a chance to excel. And he has.

Before being accepted into the program, Houck spent his freshman year of high school in "regular" curriculum classes, earning a "regular" 2.0 GPA. After two years in the "academy," he is earning a 3.0, has a new outlook on school and looks forward to a lucrative career.

"Before the academy I really didn't know what I was going to do," Houck says.

Now Houck feels as though his options in agriculture are endless. He plans to get a two-year degree from Indian River Plantation College and then continue on to the University of Florida.

He heard about the tech prep program toward the end of his freshman year. After reading informational pamphlets and talking with his guidance counselors and parents, Houck submitted an application and was accepted. Now a junior, Houck has been in the academy for almost two years.

Florida is piloting several of these academies, or "schools within schools," for students in grades nine through 12. As in other tech prep programs, academy courses lead students to postsecondary education for technical careers. The experience can be a bit more intense, though, because all courses, academic and technical, are designed around the career field that is the focus of each academy. Other academy features likely include common planning time for teachers and work based learning.

Houck appreciates how the academy approach has benefited him.

"Teachers are more willing to take more time, and everybody helps out," Houck says. "The smaller classes are great. We don't do just book work. We do hands-on work that helps reinforce what we're learning."

Maybe the smaller classes let Houck's leadership abilities flourish. Or maybe he got a sense of confidence successfully learning about things he enjoys. Regardless, he is currently junior class president and a member of the academy's Leadership Council, which acts as a liaison group between students and teachers.

"The program has allowed him the opportunity to have a voice," Houck's English teacher Virginia Wardle says.

Stuart, Florida, is in an area booming with agricultural industries, such as citrus. There also are many golf courses that require turf grass agriculturalists. So, Houck can look forward to a variety of career opportunities.

"This is a kid who might have faded into the woodwork without tech prep," local tech prep coordinator Patty Winterburn says. "He would have graduated, but probably without direction." Houck already has begun to give back to the program that has so greatly affected his career goals. He wrote and submitted to his teachers an in-depth proposal for integrating career investigation into the academy curriculum.

Still, it is the academy's hands-on learning experiences Houck values most.

"Outside the academy you're always in the classroom," Ronnie explains. "The teachers write on the board, they explain it and then you do it. In the academy, you're more involved. Our math teacher, for instance, will take us out on the golf course to measure the diameter of a hole so you can actually see for yourself what you've learned."

Academy teachers meet each day to plan and discuss the integration of the curriculum. Soil-testing done in the science class, for example, may be explained in technical reports written in English class.

"So English teachers know what math is doing," Wardle says.

Houck appreciates the innovative methods the program uses to teach him about the scientific world of agritechnology. He says he is being well-prepared for what awaits him after graduation.

"Book work is fine, but so much of that gets old," Houck says. …

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