Shelby Doyle: There are so many things that charter schools can specialize in. What made the focus on career and technical skills most attractive to you?
Alex Hammel: I started my education career as a teacher, primarily as an engineering teacher, so its always been my passion having these types of classes. As soon as I walked in [to Career Academy] I saw the opportunity to have an entire school built around those core things that I think are so important.
At a lot of schools, the shop classes or career classes sit off on a side somewhere. But so many of those things—the soft skills, the creativity, the design, the projects, all that kind of stuff— are more important and shouldn’t be something that sits on the side.
So, I literally picked up and moved to Career Academy for the opportunity, because when I saw this place I saw a place where that is what the school foundation is. That’s what was exciting for me and that’s why we’re here now.
Shelby: How would you describe the importance of project-based learning?
Alex: It’s important because you tend to see higher levels of engagement when students can be active in their learning, as opposed to sitting and listening to lectures. It flips it where instead of us delivering information to them, it’s the students that are figuring out how to best solve a problem. We think a lot about 21st century skills; communication, collaboration, creativity, those types of things. You get more of that when you’re building that amount of project versus just having some regular assignment.
Shelby: How would you describe the typical first year student who comes to your school? Is it a student who’s already passionate about one of the types of skills that you focus on, or is it a student who’s looking to be inspired by one of those skills?
Alex: It is all over the board. If you look at the demographics, it’s everything you could imagine and everything in between. Some students may seek this out, but we’re a public charter school, so there’s no admission tests. We take all kids, so they come for every reason that you might imagine. We get them from all walks of life; they may or may not be interested in the things that we have. The nice thing is that I think we do a really good job with those kids, just giving them an environment where they have a little more choice and they can thrive. We’re trying to figure out “What are the things that you’re good at, what are the things that interest you?” and then we try to connect them to that, whatever that might be.
Shelby: What is your philosophy about collaborating with the larger community you live in to help enhance students’ education?
Alex: It’s important that we have business partnerships. We really want to get our students to understand what options are out there in work before they leave high school. Even if they’re going to college, we want them to have a good foundation of what they think they’re interested in. We believe they should have at least some experience of what that actually looks like, so we really emphasize business partnerships. Sure, they can help us on a project, but more importantly, we want to have kids that have success within our region. We want to make sure that these kids have options locally to have great jobs. It kind of goes both ways. They’re giving kids the experience in the serious things, but then our students also have the opportunity to have great high-paying jobs in our region. We’ve got great business partnerships across all of our different areas that are really critical to what we’re doing.
Shelby: What is valuable to you about National School Choice Week?
Alex: It’s an important thing for us because we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have that choice. I know that our principal did an assembly around National School Choice Week. We try to do celebrations, pictures, and just celebrate what it is and have kids show what they love about school.
Shelby Doyle is director of communications and external relations at National School Choice Week and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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