Why Career Academies? Why in Toms River?

Students are best prepared for success in the careers and higher learning opportunities of today and tomorrow when they are afforded experiences that focus on solving real world problems using a variety of skills, mindsets, materials and tools.  With the proliferation of private and parochial schools, vocational career academies, and online learning platforms offering specialized course selections, students increasingly have choices when it comes to their pre-college education. These often draw the top performing students from neighborhood schools, often to the detriment of the home school and the students themselves, who miss out on the broad and varied opportunities that only a public school can offer.

Academies within the public schools address all needs. They create opportunities to identify and cultivate a strong staff, connect schools with resources outside their campuses, and, like an incoming tide, raise all boats-- not just students in the academy. Courses and activities piloted at one academy lead to similar offerings at all schools (ex. AP Economics, Calculus II, competitive robotics, dance).

Career academies:

  1. provide students new challenges and opportunities that go beyond the standard curriculum.
  2. allow students to participate in all that their local schools have to offer (ex. sports, clubs, and other extracurriculars).
  3. connect schools to their communities, through mentoring, internships, job shadowing, and guest speakers.
  4. attract resources from supporing partners, grants, and sponsors.

Academy programs are based on labor market demand and are part of an integrated approach to developing students’ academic, technical and employability skills. Implementing career pathways in high schools provides opportunities for students to engage in authentic and relevant learning that melds rigorous academic content with contextual learning.  It includes developing high-quality partnerships with state agencies, industry, and higher education to support these efforts.

In most districts, students must join a vocational program in order to get practical training and career-oriented experiences that go beyond the basic curriculum. The Academy model allows high schools to adapt resources already in existence, including staff, space, and equipment, augmenting and realigning them for more specific goals. These can be to prepare students for specific career paths, like medicine or theater, or to a credential qualifying them to begin a trade, like sales or computer programming. Class rigor and expectations are increased, and course sequences are developed that are unique to the academy track.

Knowledgeable and inspiring staff with exceptional teaching skills in a particular area are the cornerstone of each academy. Internship and mentoring opportunities are sought, key pieces of learning technology seamlessly integrated, and spaces are redesigned.

Each academy will also be able to take advantage of the many innovative initiatives already in progress. For example, makerspaces allow

Millions of dollars in technology upgrades have provided students with access to state of the art wireless resources connecting them to the larger world. High quality professional development will ensure highly effective staff and rigorous instruction.

The Academies address learning standards, career ready practices, and New Jersey’s seven key industry clusters of Advanced Manufacturing, Biopharmaceuticals & Life Sciences; Financial Services; Healthcare; Technology; Transportation, Logistics & Distribution. Combined, these six employ half of the labor force and pay two-thirds of the wages statewide, forming the foundation of the State’s economy.

The facilities hosting these “schools within schools” benefit in the bigger picture, not only by retaining motivated and talented students in the home school, but by assuring that the academy programs, activities, and students integrate well and often with their non-academy peers. Seats in academy-specific courses not filled by academy students may be made available to other students. Guest speakers, presentations, and programs (like research project poster sessions) will be shared with the entire student body.  If there is student interest, courses piloted in the academies will be expanded for all to enroll in.

What if we could provide these incredible opportunities at little or no cost? Toms River Regional staff, administrators, students, and community partners are working together to make these a reality tailor made to student needs and interests. To date, sponsors and partners have committed hundreds of thousands of dollars -- as well as time, advice, mentoring, ideas, and connections-- to make this vision a reality.

This document only scratches the surface of what we can bring to our students. We invite you to be a part of the process!