Education

Lexington has transformed three high schools. That’s getting national attention.

Three Lexington high schools have transformed traditional learning so that students study academics through the lens of a potential career, such as engineering, healthcare, technology or marketing.

On Tuesday, that new career academy model led to Lexington being named a Ford Next Generation Learning community, which will result in support from the Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, in the city’s effort to produce educated and skilled workers. The support will come in the form of teacher training, help from consultants and other hands-on support.

In order to be designated a Ford NGL community, Lexington developed a three-year master plan to increase the number of students learning in career academies and broaden its reach through affiliations with local business, education and civic leaders.

Bryan Station, Frederick Douglass and Tates Creek high schools have all adopted an academy model in which students start in a freshman academy and then select career academies for their sophomore through senior years that are aligned with their future interests. School district officials are calling the new model “the Academies of Lexington.”

Daryl Smith, Chair Elect of Lexington’s Business and Education Network, said that 83 percent of businesses surveyed in the region say they’re having difficulty finding employees for their organization. Smith said the Academies of Lexington movement is “revolutionizing public high school education, increasing the talent pipeline and strengthening economic development in our city.”

“By connecting classroom instruction to real-world application and organizing our high schools into academies that lead to careers in fields such as medicine, technology, engineering and finance, we are opening doors to the futures our students envision for themselves,” said Manny Caulk, superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools.

Malik Locke, a Bryan Station IT Academy student, said at a news conference at Bryan Station that the new model led to an internship with a Lexington company.

“From software development to programming and even some graphic design, I was able to get a taste of what working for a fast-paced tech startup really looks like,” Malik said.

He said in 2018 he plans to enroll at Berea College to get a degree in Computer Science, “which will ultimately move me closer to my dream of working in Cybersecurity.”

Arianna Black, a junior in Douglass’ Academy of Health Sciences who wants to be a neonatal nurse, said she will graduate with EMT and nursing certifications, and can enter the workforce ready to succeed directly after high school if she wants to.

“That’s amazing. These are real careers, with real salaries, real benefits and real opportunities to contribute to society in a way that’s personal and meaningful to me,” said Arianna.

Cheryl Carrier, executive director of Ford Next Generation Learning, said there’s a network of 40 communities across the country with the same designation, and they will be learning from Lexington.

“The Ford NGL partnership gives students and teachers a competitive edge that not only improves their chances for future success, but will benefit the community as a whole for years to come,” Carrier said.

Through the Ford NGL process, districts and their communities become partners and align their resources to help students and support the region’s workforce and economic development needs, officials said.

Ford NGL communities have demonstrated success through higher graduation rates, increased academic achievement, lower dropout rates and industry certifications earned in high school. Districts in the Ford NGL network have shown increased student engagement at both the high school and post-secondary levels, developing more robust ties between educators and local employers, generating a stronger talent-development pipeline for high-demand careers and boosting community prosperity, officials said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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