OPS Career Academies need to be rethought

Making academies optional could bring more success

My whole life, I have always looked forward to high school. The main reason being the variety of classes to choose from. So, when eighth grade came to an end, I was so excited to finally get to pick the classes I was interested in and have somewhat of a say in what I wanted to learn. But now, I don’t have that freedom of a choice anymore and neither does any other freshman, at least not much anyway.

In Omaha Public Schools high schools, all freshmen are required to be in the freshman academy, regardless of what school they attend. The academy strives to give ninth grade students a chance to learn more about future careers they could be interested in. Each high school has its own academies, with no two high schools having the exact same academies.

Burke has three academy options: Air and Space, Communications, and Burke Marketing, Business & Analytics (MBA). The options other OPS high schools offer can be found on the district website.

The Air and Space academy targets students who have an interest in things like piloting, engineering, aviation mechanics and airport management. The communication academy has pathways in contemporary journalism, web and digital design, audio and video production and teaching as a profession. Students in the MBA academy has management, data analytics, finance, insurance and marketing pathways for students planning on pursuing a business degree and/or career.

Although the academies have the right idea of helping students explore career choices, OPS would be better without them. As a freshman, I find the required academies very frustrating. When I was told in Freshman Seminar about these classes, I was outraged and disappointed.

I didn’t want to have to go into an academy. I didn’t want to have to base my future classes on one category that I’m not even fully interested in. There are many students who have to go through classes that serve no purpose to the career they had in mind. I don’t want to just explore one area of career possibilities right now.

I want to explore all of the different electives from art to journalism to music to culinary so that I can try them out and see what I fall in love with. I don’t know what I want to do yet and limiting me to one realm of career options hosted by my academy selection isn’t going to help me figure that out. 

“The question most often asked is whether or not students lose access to other classes because of the academies,” curriculum specialist Andrew Brooks said. “Our counselors work one on one with students on their schedules to fit in all of the options and opportunities they are looking for.”

From my experience, a big reason why I think the academies aren’t needed is because I had chosen a class I could’ve already taken without it. I chose communications as my pathway and then went with the obvious option of journalism. If the academies weren’t in place, I would still be able to take journalism just like I was able to this year.

I think what frustrates me the most is that there was no student input involved in the decision. Students should have a role in making choices about something that would have a large impact on them. There have been many things being changed in OPS for next year. The bus shortages, the mixed classes, the academies and probably a lot of other things that we don’t know about yet. It’s a lot of change in just one year.  

Students should be allowed to have a voice in these decisions, and they should be able to choose whether or not they would like to be in an academy instead of being forced to pick one out of three. The way it is now, so many students are choosing the most “ok” academy for them, or the one they think they would hate the least. That leads to another problem; there are kids in these academy classes who don’t want to really be there. They were just forced to. When kids don’t want to be there it impacts the kids who do want to be in that pathway because the teachers can’t go as fast because they are always trying to get everyone on board when clearly they aren’t. It becomes a roadblock in our pathway.

OPS would get a more positive reaction and see more success from students by making the academies optional. That way the students who do believe that the academies are a good fit for them would care and want to participate in them can and those  students who don’t won’t be roadblocks to others’ success.