How Every Student Succeeds in a Career Academy School

by Whitney Aragaki

Could you identify a career path when you were in high school? Were you able to recognize the skills and traits in your teenage years that would make you successful in your current job? Would your journey to your dream career have been easier if you started preparing in tenth grade?

Today, career academy schools are on the rise. These schools streamline their student populations into groupings based on interest and career goals. They build personalized programs of study and help students make more informed post-high school decisions. In Hawaii, there is a consortium of fifteen high schools that expound on this model to fulfill the needs in their own communities.

Graduated seniors from Waiakea High's Career Academies. Mrs. Aragaki teaches an AP Research course for seniors.

Graduated seniors from Waiakea High's Career Academies. Mrs. Aragaki teaches an AP Research course for seniors.

Public Services Academy students at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conference in Honolulu, 2016.

Public Services Academy students at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conference in Honolulu, 2016.

Cultivating Careers Day 2017 for incoming Waiakea high school students. Career presenters were mostly (all pictured) alumni.

Cultivating Careers Day 2017 for incoming Waiakea high school students. Career presenters were mostly (all pictured) alumni.

In the state, there is a strong push for CCCR - college, career, and community readiness - and the career academy model answers the call for all students. To expound on this argument, let’s focus on six “Friends”, one or more who may have been similar to your classmates, or even yourself.

Ross is the typical strong student. Always hitting the books, on the honors/Advanced Placement track, but not the most involved in other activities. In a school with career academies, Ross would still be able to take the honors programs, but electives would be offered to develop his communication skills, hone his paleontology interests, and also offer a senior capstone course that would challenge his academic skills with a culminating research project with a local mentor. Ross would graduate with honors and have a college application that appeals to Top 10 universities looking for students who go above and beyond the curricular day.

Rachel shows great interest in fashion but would rather chase boys than books. She finds little relevance in core subjects when they are taught in isolation. In a career academy, Rachel would take core and elective classes with classmates that share her career interest, and have teachers that tailor their lessons to a specific population. While on this academy track, Rachel would be encouraged to also take business classes that would develop her entrepreneurial skills and help her build her brand in the future.

Phoebe is the dreamer and the artist. Often, she is found with a guitar in her lap and not a care in the world. Although others might have told her that a musician would not make much money, a career academy model would value her interest as it would a doctor or a lawyer. Career academies treat all careers with significance and worth because students are not compared across the board. This personalization fosters Phoebe’s growth in the arts throughout her high school years, where she is able to present an authentic musical composition to her peers and the community in her senior year.

Joey would someday become a soap opera actor with a stroke of luck, but in high school he shows little interest in academics or any type of job. In career academy schools, every student must choose an academy to be a part of. Joey is the type of student that career academies can drastically change. By placing him on a structured path, this academy ensures that Joey takes his core classes but also elective courses directed to a potential career path. The carpentry and woodworking classes Joey takes are dual credit courses with the local community college, and gives him advanced standing if he were to take that path. However, after his senior project demonstration, he acknowledges he is not interested in the carpentry field and would rather pursue a career in modeling and acting. This cost-free experience in high school saves Joey thousands of dollars and a few years of frustration.

Chandler is the student who sits in the middle of the class, blending into the background while more outspoken peers take the teacher’s attention. Rather than allow him to float through four years unnoticed, his career academy adviser is able to translate his aptitude for numbers and his ability to work well with different peers into a career in advertising rather than setting him up for years of meandering through IT procurement.

Monica shows aptitude for science and math, but her lack of confidence can limit her exploration into new fields. Through career academy offerings, Monica signs up for an introductory tech course, Women in STEM, a course that can only be offered with the academy model and master schedule variety. Monica is able to recognize how to transverse STEM pathways that lead her to investigate options for future success as a food technologist as pursue her hobby of molecular gastronomy.

These students are sitting in a classroom near you - perhaps overlooked, perhaps undervalued. Perhaps you can see yourself in one of their stories. With a little guidance from a school mindset shift, our students will individually have the chance to be recognized and appreciated for their own intelligence and interests. They will be the driving force for new industries and thriving communities of the future.

Support a local career academy school - reach out to assist in senior project mentoring, serve on a career panel, or offer an internship.  This is an initiative that every career pathway can support. Chances are, the future star of your company is right in your community, ready to shine.


Whitney is a high school science teacher at Waiakea High School on Hawai’i Island. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, serves on the Hawai’i State Science Work Group, and is a part of the Hawai’i District Science and Engineering Fair Steering Committee. A former Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Aspiring Teachers of Color and National Science Foundation GK-12 Graduate Fellow, she was born and raised on Hawai’i Island. Whitney has a BA in Biology from Swarthmore College, and an MS in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science from the University of Hawai’i at Hilo.

What Parents Should Know

By: John Mulroy

Mind blank. Anxiety sets in.  I am not sure this is for me. What could I possibly write that hasn’t already been written?  What can I offer this group of intelligent and ambitious teacher leaders?

Last fall, I sat in a conference room in Chicago surrounded by Hope Street Fellows from across the US. They were Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Hawaii proud. Our colleague opened the session,  “What do you want parents to know about their child’s teacher?”  

I flashed back to classrooms, colleagues, students, and parents and recalled days when I felt like a “Super Teacher” and days when I questioned if I was good enough for my kids.

But I am here, I thought, I do have a voice. Saying something differently, not necessarily new, will have an impact.  Thinking back on all those days, what do I want parents to know?

Teachers view teaching as a privilege.

Teachers view themselves as professionals.

Teachers are reading professional articles and having collaborative discussions with colleagues.

Teachers are taking professional development courses to improve their practice.

Teachers are proud of this profession.

Teachers are inspired, empowered, and ready to change the narrative and impact policy not only for themselves but for the children you place in their care each and every day.

Teachers are not perfect.

Teachers do not want sympathy.

Teachers are leaders in the community.

Teachers are leaders in their schools.

Teachers call your children “my kids.”

Teachers want to see and hear about your child’s success.

Teachers have shown your children their best and their worst.

Teachers have cried in parking lots when their best wasn't good enough.

Teachers are working with the best and brightest of tomorrow.

Teachers are providing a safe space that might not be provided at home.

Teachers are teaching all day and then mentoring new teachers to become your child's next favorite teacher.

Teachers have thought about your children days, weeks, months, and even years after they lefttheir classrooms.

And, finally, parents should know that teachers can reach students because we are all students too, lifelong learners who put ourselves in their shoes, often embracing uncertainty and anxiety in order to improve our practice and better serve our kids.


John Mulroy earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary and  Special Education from La Salle University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He dedicated eight years to teaching in a multitude of special education environments including resource, self-contained, and Co-teaching classrooms. John is a resource teacher and mentor for newly hired Special Education Teachers within the Kaimuki-McKinley-Roosevelt Complex as well as a trainer with Hawaii Teacher Induction Center.


"When I Grow Up, I want to be a Rock Star!": Elevating Teacher Retention

By Aurene Padilla

Starting at the age of Kindergarten when anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I would answer, “teacher” without any hesitation.  My two older sisters would always play school with me and later I would play school with my stuffed animals.  

I thought being a teacher was the most amazing job in the world.  What could be better than hanging with and helping other kids?  How cool would it be to have a classroom filled with paint, paper, and books?  The fact that teaching was the family business made the job even the more viable. I loved hanging out at my dad and mom’s schools and their students would treat me like I was the coolest little kid.  In my eyes, teaching was the best job ever!

Growing up, I loved school.  I thought my teachers were rock stars and I wanted to be exactly like them.  My 1st-grade teacher, Mrs. Makekau, made us hand-drawn Snoopy character bookmarks and would write the names of books we read on them.  We all competed to collect as many of them as we could.  In 4th-grade, our teacher, Mrs. Tamura, played a mean ukulele and we would sing all day long; my math teacher Mrs. Yasunaga helped me memorize my multiplication facts with Times Table Bingo.  My 5th-grade teacher, Mrs. Kubota, always had a plastic pond of crayfish in her class for a Science unit.  And Mrs. Mansho, my 6th-grade teacher, was the biggest star of all.  She had perfect hair and make-up and all the girls wanted to grow up to be exactly like her.  

I set a course to become a teacher and studied hard in school.  During the summers, I worked as a teacher’s aid.  I loved working with the kids and marveled at the fact that they loved me and followed me around everywhere.  I was right: teachers were rock stars!

Upon graduating from the University of Hawaii with a teaching degree, I was extremely lucky to land my first job teaching third grade at Holomua Elementary School.  

It was challenging from the start. I spent many long hours after school at work and every Sunday in my classroom. There were many tears in the start of my career.  I will never forget the parent that was so unhappy that she took her child out of my class or the angry letter I received from a father who didn’t agree with our school’s philosophy.  I had 32 students in my class and I sometimes struggled with behavior management, organization, and the sheer amount of time, work, and energy it took to be a teacher.  I was often overwhelmed and wondered whether I could really be a teacher for a living.  However, with the support of a school-level mentor, a cohesive grade level, and the advice from my educator parents, I survived.

This year marks my 20th year in the teaching profession and I am happy that I persevered through the tough times at the start of my career.   I now work as a Mentor for Beginning Teachers and every day I work with teachers new to the profession who are eager and filled with hope and excitement like I had been.  

Unfortunately, only half of the teachers that begin their careers today have stories similar to mine.  Recent studies have shown that teacher attrition is a real dilemma.  50% of beginning teachers quit the profession after only 5 years.  

Why are we unable to retain our teachers?  Why is it that a job that was once so revered has become one that people are leaving in droves?  In my work with beginning teachers, I have found that many teachers didn’t have pre-career guidance and training nor high-quality induction and mentoring support in their formative teaching years.  They feel ill-equipped for the demands of the profession and lament that teaching didn’t end up being like they thought it would.  

When I look back at my own career, I see the people and systems that helped me overcome the struggles I had and led to a path of leadership in education.  All teachers need these types of supports to grow, thrive and survive the early struggles of our careers and make an impact on our profession.

On the Job Training

In many professions, lengthy apprenticeships and internships are required prior to obtaining a license to perform.  In education, most colleges require 3 semesters of practicum and 1 semester of student teaching. However, during the student teaching semester, pre-service teachers simply inherit the established classroom of a veteran teacher mid year for a few weeks.  Such a program does not prepare our teachers to open the school year, organize, or plan to lead their first, second, even third classroom.  Many of our beginning teachers are hired to teach their first class and have never been responsible for the well-being 25 children by themselves ever, not to mention being responsible for educating them too.  

Professional Learning Network

It takes a village to raise a child.  Teachers cannot work in silos.  The larger the professional network a teacher has, the more resources they will have readily to use in their classrooms.  There are no full-proof formulas for classroom management issues, differentiated instruction, or a curriculum for all students: it’s an art, not a regiment.  Teachers need to collaborate with one another through dialogue, observation, and data teams to improve their craft.  The more diverse the network, the more support, advice, and resources teachers have access to face a diverse set of issues.

Instructional Mentor

Hawai‘i’s Department of Education has established a program that pairs all beginning teachers with a trained instructional mentor.  In its early stages, the program has shown great progress.

Leadership Pathway

Teachers enter the profession focused on their classrooms and the students in it. It takes them awhile to acclimate to the school’s environment, their colleagues, and curriculum and instruction.  However, the success of our public school system lies in the hands of teacher-leaders who are in the trenches to lead the way.  Beginning teachers must have a clear pathway to assume leadership on their grade levels and departments, eventually in their schools, and ultimately in the department.  Being a teacher-leader cements the teacher as a stakeholder in the profession and promotes longevity.  Teachers can only collectively have ownership of our profession if we assume leadership roles.

As I look back on my twenty years of teaching I realize that I have not yet reached “rock star” status, however, my career has withstood challenges of the last two decades:  a 21-day strike, Furlough Fridays, No Child Left Behind and Common Core Standards.  I have been able to stay the course because I have prepared for this job all of my life, and have been supported through every step in my career by colleagues that have been amazing role models and leaders.  It is paramount that teachers being inducted to our profession receive the same types of support as they choose to enter our profession and throughout. Let’s make some new rock stars!

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Aurene Padilla is a second-generation educator and is the Induction Program Coordinator for Central District:  Leilehua, Mililani, Waialua Complexes, a Hope Street Group Fellow for Hawaii, and a part of the National Program Leader Network.  She has taught in the Hawaii Department of Education for twenty years and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish, a Professional Diploma in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Reading Instruction. Aurene is the proud mother of two children, ages 10 and 9.  When she is not teaching or being a mom you will find her surfing, cross fitting, or training for a marathon.