Walker Valley Principal Danny Coggin and Smaller Learning Communities site coordinator Amy Kier presented an overview of the new program for the Bradley County Board of Education on Thursday.
“What we want to do with smaller learning communities at Walker Valley is to break our 1,500-member school into smaller schools,” Coggin said.
Freshman students will still be a part of the Freshman Academy. However, sophomores will have a choice of the business, humanities or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) academy. Teachers of sophomore students will still be grouped together, keeping the sophomore academy that Walker Valley has developed in the past. Students will continue their studies in the academy of their choice through to graduation.
No matter what academy a student is in he or she will still have the option of taking classes in another academy, Kier said. Three elective courses must be in the same academy.
“What the academies will do is give a focus to their core courses,” Kier said.
Coggin said this approach encourages collaboration among teachers, while giving students more chances to connect with each other. It also allows students to work with teachers more closely. The academy approach will also increase the ways information is related to students’ lives, while challenging them to understand the material on a deeper level, according to Coggin.
“I talk to a lot of students who graduated from Walker Valley and I ask them, ‘What can we do at Walker Valley to make your college experience better, to give you a better opportunity?’ Ninety-nine percent of them say, ‘Make high school harder ... make it to where we have to really work,’” Coggin said.
Coggin said the high school had spent the last year and a half preparing for these new programs. He said the process “has strengthened our faculty” as members have worked together to develop the academy programs. Collaboration has been achieved through needs surveys, leadership committee meetings and dialogue with teachers about possible plans for implementation.
The Smaller Learning Communities Grant has provided the funding needed for additional teachers and professional development, which have made the academy approach possible at Walker Valley, according to Kier.
The grant also allows the school to provide seven additional advanced placement courses next year.
In conjunction with launching the academies, the school will be expanding the Mustang Advisory program. Students will be paired with advisers in their academy.
A complete list of what courses are offered in each program within the academies is available on the school’s website.
The Smaller Learning Communities Grant was jointly applied for and received for Bradley Central High School, Cleveland High School and Walker Valley High School.
The board also granted Bradley County Coordinated School Health Director Andrea Lockerby permission to pursue a grant that would allow BCCSH to increase its work with school-based clinics. The grant would not require a local match. The federal grant would provide the funding to expand the program that the department piloted this year with the mobile clinic.