Academies Spotlight: Glencliff High School

Experience MNPS: The Academies of Nashville at Glencliff High School
Posted on 02/08/2023
Glencliff Academies of Nashville Ambassador portrait

students working in an auto maintenance classGlencliff High School, one of the most diverse schools in the state of Tennessee, has students from about 30 different countries who speak about 25 different languages – and each of these students is part of an Academy.

The Academies of Nashville model has been successful for Glencliff and MNPS’s other zoned high schools over the years, with all students choosing a pathway that will help them succeed in life, whether their plan is to go to college or to be ready to enter the workforce once they graduate from high school.

Glencliff Academies 

As Glencliff students explore their secondary education journey, they start in the Freshman Academy in ninth grade. In the spring semester, they select one of the following three academies to help them prepare for college or career:

  • The Academy of Agriculture, Automotive, and Technology, which has pathways in automotive maintenance and light repair, technology, and environmental biotechnology.
  • The Ford Academy of Business and Innovation (or FABI, as everyone calls it), which offers pathways in entrepreneurship as well as digital arts and design.
  • The Academy of Health and Hospitality, where students can choose pathways in culinary arts and therapeutic services.

For Thommye Kelley, the academy coach at Glencliff, the academies play a significant role in matching students to their college and career aspirations. For example, all students take YouScience, which is an aptitude and career interest test or inventory, during their freshman year. YouScience shows students what they are good at and what they are interested in, so they have an opportunity to learn and pick from pathways that could point to their future career.

“I love that the academies here at Glencliff will help students find what they are passionate about, even if they don't want to go into that desired career field,” Kelley said. “They learn life skills; they learn professionalism skills that will help them get to the next level.

“All our students leave here with industry certifications or college credit. As they graduate, a lot of our students join our entrepreneurship pathway because they want to take over their family’s business, or they want to be in our health therapeutic services program because they want to be a nurse or be a physician.” student wrapping another student's foot in health sciences class

Kelley also sees the importance of the academy model in the sense that it helps students see the possibilities they could have, but it also shows them things they might not want to do.

“We've had several students who studied agriculture and realized, ‘Oh, I don't think I want to go that way. I think I want to do something else there.’ Others studied health science and realized that it is not for them, and they wanted to do something different,” she said.

“So I think the academies here at Glencliff specifically give all of our students an opportunity to see what way they might go in their career, or, if they want to go to college, the route that they can do.”

Valuable Lessons

Sara Zeledón, a senior at Glencliff, chose the environmental biotechnology pathway in the Academy of Agriculture, Automotive, and Technology because she wants to be in the medical field when she’s older. She also wanted to have a fun high school experience and get to learn new things before her actual career in nursing starts.

“My academy and pathway have shown me to be more open-minded with things, and I've developed a close relationship with one of my CTE teachers and will have close relationships with my professors as well when I go to college,” Zeledón said.

“I've really enjoyed these four years in high school in general. Whether it's in sports or joining extracurriculars, I would say that Glencliff High School has really impacted me, and it's something that I won't forget and something I really will cherish with me when I graduate.”

Rosa Abrego, who is also in her last year at Glencliff, decided to select the pathway of therapeutic services in the Academy of Health and Hospitality based off her YouScience test results and her experiences at the career fair back in her freshman year. Even though she doesn’t necessarily want to go into the medical field per se, she believes the lessons she’s learning are valuable to her future goals as a forensic tech. Glencliff student portrait

“I think the skills I'm learning in Dr. Robert Jordan's medical assistant classes are useful to me because as a person in forensics, I think knowing the anatomy of a body and some basic health skills would be beneficial, as well as aligning some more soft skills such as communication between people and then advocating for myself in the community,” Abrego said.

“Even when we were learning virtually when the pandemic started back in 2020, I was able to make a lot of connections through the system. I think Dr. Jordan was able to help us learn and grow even through the computer. And this year he's covering some of that old material again to make sure that we're properly prepared for our future. And then also having an academy coach like Ms. Kelley allows us to build more networking experiences through district training and ambassador opportunities.”

Saira Aguilar, another senior in the Academy of Health and Hospitality who chose the therapeutic services pathway, said that ever since she was little, she wanted to be part of the medical field, but as she got older, she wanted to become a home health nurse for students with special needs.

“I feel like this Academy has made me a kinder person, but also more understanding toward others and their feelings,” Aguilar said. “I'm also learning new skills every day such as how to do blood pressure and CPR. In addition, I feel I have become a better communicator. I'm learning these things in real life, and it's going to help me in the future because I want to be a nurse.”

Combining Academics with Career Skills

Dr. Darnell Towns-Gedeus, a teacher in the Ford Academy of Business and Innovation, believes the “experiential field day” Glencliff offers to students has been extremely successful within the academy model. It’s a day when “all the academies are either out of the building on a field trip and doing some type of exploration, whether it is college or career, or they’re on campus and people are brought to students.”

“I went on a field trip to the TSU College of Business, and students were able to ask questions with faculty members at Tennessee State University,” Towns-Gedeus said. “They gave them cookies and snacks, and they were able to tour their facilities and look at their stock market exchange room to see all the rates go up and down throughout the day. I think experiences like that within the academy structure are beneficial to students.”

Another perspective about Glencliff’s success comes from Dr. Jessica Abarquez-New, an MNPS graduate and currently the lead teacher in the Academy of Health and Hospitality. She loves the academy model because it combines academic and career training as students can, for example, undertake a culinary pathway while also taking Advanced Placement classes.

“I teach English, but it’s really encouraging to see these kids get excited in culinary arts or get excited about us having a blood drive on Thursday and getting people to sign up for it,” Abarquez-New said. “So just their excitement in seeing how all this relates to life, how these skills can be used outside of this building, that's what gets me motivated every day.”

“Part of Something Bigger than Themselves”

For over a decade, Glencliff has developed meaningful business partnerships that have contributed to the academies’ success. These partners help provide those real-world experiences and expertise in the industry to the teachers, students, and programs.

One of those key partners is Earl Swensson Associates (ESA), an architecture and interior design firm, which has been supporting Glencliff since the academies were introduced there in 2010.

“We love being a part of the Glencliff community. Having been a part of the academies for so long, I feel like I've really witnessed a transformation across the school district, but particularly also at Glencliff,” said Tara Myers, ESA’s representative at the school. “And I think the academies are really important and the work they're doing is really valuable, and I feel like it's really fostering a sense of community within the schools.

“It is really important for the students to feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves, and having the outside business community be a part of that is just critical.”

two students in plant science class working in green house

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