SUWANEE — Two new academic formats are coming this school year to Gwinnett schools and, if successful during their initial rollout, could be modeled across the county.
The academies model in five high schools is designed to give students a voice in how they demonstrate education and develop skills to use in the workforce after graduation, said Jody Reeves, Gwinnett County Public Schools executive director for Academies, Career and Technical Education. Students can expect to gain work-based experience in some cases, college credit or professional certification and a plan for postsecondary education and a career.
“Our schools are now being broken down into smaller chunks, smaller learning communities,” Reeves said.
The pilot schools are Central Gwinnett, Lanier, Meadowcreek, Shiloh and South Gwinnett.
The academies model has already seen partnerships develop from local cities and organizations, such as Snellville, Sugar Hill and the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville.
The Aurora plans to partner with the Fine Arts Academy at Central Gwinnett, while the city of Sugar Hill plans to offer internships to Lanier students and Chick-fil-A is working with Shiloh students and the city of Snellville with South Gwinnett students.
“It’s been very organic in nature,” Reeves said. “We’re getting calls on a daily basis from companies wishing to be engaged and a part of the academy process.”
The dual language immersion program will be piloted at three elementary schools, Annistown, Bethesda and Trip, where kindergarteners will spend at least half of their school day learning their curriculum in a foreign language. The voluntary dual language immersion program has more than tripled in Georgia since last year, GCPS officials said, as 10 programs were active.
Annistown and Bethesda will offer Spanish, while Trip will offer French.
Those schools were chosen because they expressed an interest, or teachers or administrators at the school have a background in a foreign language.
French was chosen after discussions with the business community, the military and state department, which said most peace-keeping efforts are in former French colonies.
During the spring registration period, 95 students signed up at Bethesda, while 55 students registered at Trip with more than 20 on a waiting list. Annistown had 54 students register and four on a waiting list.
“We’ve had a great response,” Trip assistant principal Virin Vedder said. “At kindergarten registration (in the spring), we had a steady stream of people waiting to learn more about the program and register their children for it.”
The program at Trip was popular enough that administrators said it was likely that they would need a lottery to place students next year.
Programs will use a two-teacher model: one who instructs exclusively in the target language for half of the day, and a second who teaches in English for the remainder of the day.
The district’s previous language program model, which began in eighth grade, helps students reach novice or low intermediate levels in a foreign language, which would have helped them only become a tour guide or cashier in a foreign country.
The need for this program came from the district’s business partners to give students a competitive advantage, but also in part because Gwinnett has become a hub for international business. Those business partners said they need people who can work on international teams to solve global problems.
The district plans to roll the program out to additional grades each year, so it reaches fifth-graders — kindergarteners who start the program this year — by 2019.
District officials said the pilot program could extend to more schools around the county.
“A lot of that depends on how the pilot does,” Superintendent/CEO J. Alvin Wilbanks said in October. “But certainly if the program works as well as we think it will, it certainly will be something that moves around to different clusters.”
The DeKalb County School District offers similar programs in German, French and a multi-language setting, while Atlanta Public Schools offers Spanish and Henry County Schools offers a program in Mandarin Chinese.