MANATEE -- Manatee schools' front-runner status in academy learning has received national recognition.
Twenty-three high school career academies from across the nation received "model" status at the National Career Academy Coalition Model Academy Awards in Nashville on Saturday. All four career academies at Braden River High School received the coalition's highest status.
Braden River High School is also the first school in the nation to have four academies earn "model" status at the same time, Principal Jennifer Gilray said Tuesday.
"It's not just what we do, it's how well we do it," Gilray said of winning the awards. "The important part of having academies is making sure we are doing it the right way."
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Braden River High School is a wall-to-wall academy school, which means that every student is required to pick a specialized program of study or "academy," which allows students to tailor their
classes for their future, be it college or a career.
Many students earn industry level certifications through the academies, giving them an edge in snagging internships, finding a job and the college application process. All Braden River students are required to complete a major project during their senior year that relates to their chosen academy and is eventually evaluated by community leaders.
"It has to be something they are passionate about, something they have lived with and loved for six months," Gilray said.
The high school's four academies include the Arts and Communication Academy, the Business and International Studies Academy, the Science Technology and Health Academy and the Engineering, Design and Leadership Academy.
The career academies now join Manatee High School's Medical Academy and Southeast High School's Visual and Performing Arts Academy as the district's "model" academies.
Academies are rated "in progress," "certified" or "model," based on a series of standards outlined by the national coalition. To earn model status, schools need to exceed six of the standards.
Braden River High School applied to be evaluated at the beginning of the last school year, and this past April coalition representatives spent two days touring career academies and interviewing students, teachers, parents and community partners.
The school found out it had achieved model status in June, Gilray said, but was not honored formally until Saturday's conference.
At the conference, a team of teachers, including two representatives from each Braden River academy, also made a presentation on becoming a wall-to-wall academy school.
Director of Adult, Career and Technical Education Doug Wagner said it was clear at the conference that Manatee County is a front-runner in academy learning. National standards of practice are based on an academy rubric that started in Manatee County, he said.
"It was evident that Manatee County has been leading the academy effort for many years when you compare us to the rest of the country," Wagner said. "We've be doing this 10 years -- with these national standards."
The district has more than 20 career academies at its seven high schools. In 1994, the Florida Department of Education offered grants to schools willing to try a teaching model that revolved around smaller learning communities. Manatee High School's medical academy became one of the first certified academies in the state of Florida.
Since 2007, the state requires every high school to have one registered career and professional education academy, Wagner said, and they now give academies money for each student that gets industry certified in programs such as SolidWorks for engineering, Adobe Premier Pro CS3 for TV production and Microsoft Office products for business.
Last year, the district received about $350,000 to put back into their academy programs, Wagner said. They'll receive more funds in December.
School board Vice Chairman Karen Carpenter also traveled to Nashville with the Manatee County team and attended a leadership workshop. One of the standards of success for the model award is support from the school board and superintendent.
"It's top-down support," Carpenter said. "I think one of the reasons I was excited was to help expand the support of the school board. We want to make sure that we have a new superintendent who is dedicated to career academies."
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.