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When interviewing at the Jefferson Parish job fair, and later at the Bonnabel High campus, I got the impression that my hiring would be part of a bigger plan. They seemed very interested that I was just coming from an engineering career. I didn’t quite envision what the assistant principal Mrs. Rush (quoted in the article) had in mind when she spoke of “small learning communities,” but the following article starts to give me a better idea.

I’m optimistic that this could be great for the students. I’ve often resented that my exposure to career options while in high school was almost nonexistent. On the other hand, I wonder if dividing students into career academies in their junior and senior years might prematurely restrict them from fully exploring other options. I’m very curious to see how all this will develop in the coming year.

The following Times-Picayune article was copied from this page at I include the text here since I’m guessing the link won't work for long. Please address any copyright concerns to jawhite1 at uno dot edu.

Bonnabel High given federal grant

School to expand academy choices

Tuesday, July 19, 2005
By Mark Waller
East Jefferson bureau

The plan to turn Alfred T. Bonnabel High School into a campus where every student explores a real-world career path has received a $750,000 boost from the federal government.

School officials learned this month that they won a U.S. Department of Education grant that will pay for teacher training and equipment needed to expand career academy offerings at the Kenner school.

The academies give previews of work in different fields. Bonnabel already offers some, such as automotive repair and teaching. The money will help the school create more programs, perhaps in filmmaking and welding. Eventually, all Bonnabel students will join academies when they reach their junior and senior years.

"By five years, we should be totally academy," said Fran Rush, assistant principal supervising curriculum and coordinator of the grant application. "We're really excited about this. It's going to allow us to do a lot more."

The goal of the grant is to promote "smaller learning communities" inside high schools that have more than 1,000 students, dividing the students into groups and giving them more personal attention. Bonnabel's enrollment is projected to be about 1,600 in 2005-06.

When the academy program has been phased in, students will spend all day with other members of their academies, learning about job paths in some classes and core subjects in others.

Teams of teachers working with each group will coordinate lessons to show connections between career training and core subjects.

Graduation rates will rise, Rush said, as the school makes teenagers more comfortable and shows them the relevance of the subjects they study.

"With small learning communities, the kids belong," Rush said. "Also, with the academies, they'll see the reason to stay in school."

Bonnabel already uses the small-group approach with its general curriculum for freshmen, who study in their own building. The arrangement will continue for freshmen and later will expand to sophomores with the grant.

In those two grades, the school will continue to offer a traditional liberal arts curriculum. Then it will divide students into career academies in their junior and senior years.

The grant also emphasizes literacy, Rush said, so all students will spend time reading novels during homeroom classes, and freshmen English classes will intensify efforts.

Superintendent Diane Roussel said the plans at Bonnabel should address the needs of some students who do not qualify or are not interested in Jefferson Parish's growing magnet schools, which are geared toward top academic performers headed to college

Before the magnet schools began in the past year, Roussel said, the system focused on raising the achievement of its lowest-performing students as schools felt pressure from state and federal school accountability reforms. With the introduction of magnet schools, the spotlight shifted to high achievers, she said.

The Bonnabel plan offers a specialty program for students who are not necessarily top achievers or college-bound, although some of the job specialties will still lead to college, Roussel said.

"It's not just addressing the higher-level-achieving students, but all students in a high school," she said.

Rush said a team of six teachers put in long hours, including nights and weekends, assembling the grant application.

"We've been waiting and waiting," for news on the grant, she said. When school administrators return to work on Aug. 1, "We'll hit the ground running."

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