George Lucas Educational Foundation

A Small Academy Offers School-to-Career Learning

To give students a chance to focus on various vocational options, this large Texas high school reinvented itself as a group of intimate learning environments. More to this story.
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A Small Academy Offers School-to-Career Learning (Transcript)

Teacher: Okay, so let's trace the blood through the heart. Where does it come from? Superior, inferior vena cava. Coming from the where? The body, right? And then it enters the what? The right atrium.

Narrator: This class at South Grand Prairie High School near Arlington, Texas looks like a typical biology class, but for many of these students, failing or passing this course can be a matter of life or death.

Narrator: On a cold, rainy morning, members of the EMT class respond to an accident near their school.

Go ahead and get a C-collar and a backboard.

Narrator: While the injuries aren't real, the hands-on learning that happens here makes an everlasting impression.

Stephanie: When we first got out there, I was nervous. I made the mistake of going around the truck instead of going straight to the stretcher. I actually followed them, and I got there and I'm like, "Oh, I'm supposed to be somewhere else."

On three. One, two, three.

Stephanie: We learn a lot through repetition. It's great because if we mess up on something, like if we're going through a scene and we mess up, they're able to critique us and we find out what we messed up on and we learn from that.

Teacher: Okay, so what kind of patient is that? Is that a stay-and-play or a load-and-go?


Load-and-go, and that's what she did, right? She got there, she did her quick assessment, all right? Okay? And you got your group out, you put her on a backboard, and you got her in the ambulance. Why was that so important to you?

It's cold outside. She was shivering, and she needed to be inside.

Teacher: Good. Very good assessment.

Narrator: The EMT program is part of the Health Science Academy, one of five academy options for students at South Grand Prairie. They can prepare for college and careers in everything from accounting to art to engineering and law.

I will be representing the prosecution.

Roy: What we found out is that we weren't successful with 60 percent of the students, that, yes, they were graduating, yes, they were moving on to life after high school, but not at the level that we would like to see them, so we decided that old phrase "what's good for one is good for all" and go to wall-to-wall academies for all 2,500 students to give each and every one of them an opportunity to explore, to experiment, to find out what they wanted to do, and, yes, to find out what perhaps they didn't want to do after they're graduated.

Stephanie: It's great being in an academy because you get to learn with the people that want to do the same thing. Like being in a big school, people may distract the class of not wanting to be there, but when you're in academy, everyone wants to be in that academy and you're able to learn more.

Good job. Let's do it again.

Chad: I will teach you all the medicine you want to learn, but the biggest thing I want to teach you is critical thinking, how you can think in a critical setting. And they take that everywhere. They take that out when they go out partying that night.

Man: All right, guys. What do we got?

We have an 18-year-old female. Her initial BP was 130/70.

Narrator: Most of the academies invite professionals, like flight paramedic Chuck Skinner, to volunteer as mentors.

She was A and O times 3 at that point and respirations were still 18.

Charles: Kids in high school tend to be pretty good test takers we could give the book to and they could pass the final exam. That's the truth. They would suck as EMTs. They would not be employable.

Student: We're going to put you onto the helicopter, okay? It's going to be very loud, but everything is going to be okay.

Charles: The bottom line is, we have to motivate them to care enough to actually want to apply these skills to someone who's bleeding, to someone who's drunk and behaving badly from a head injury.

Student: We treated her for a possible tib-fib fracture.

Charles: Rather than this pie-in-the-sky kind of education where we all hold hands, sing "Kumbayah" and read soccer tees, we actually are talking about stuff that matters today. I mean, they'll come out of school ready to go to work. We have jobs waiting for some of these guys.

I don't recommend you have your stethoscope around your neck because when you're down like this, they're going to be hanging in your patient.

Narrator: If they do well in the course and pass a battery of tests, students can graduate as certified emergency medical technicians.

Charles: If you can catch folks that are very good at this type of hands-on learning early on, not only can you save them the grief of spending two decades trying to find their career, i.e. me, but you plug in young, vibrant, healthy folks into a system that really needs and requires that kind of physicality, you improve the system for everybody.

If you all lead us down the wrong path in your assessment, you understand, we're going to go down that path until we figure out "Ruh, roh, Shaggy," we got a problem. "Ruh, roh," and in the air, it is a much more serious problem, so we depend on your assessment.

Ma'am, do you have any other pain?


Shawnda: Being able to know what I'm doing and actually be able to take charge and do it, it really makes me happy, because if you think about it, if that's a real patient, you saved their life. I mean, you were a part of that. You got to save their life, if, of course, they live, but, I mean, you help them and you get to help them and it's just so much fun.

Do a rapid trauma assessment.

Debra: The data that we've seen over the time since we've gone to career academies has shown that our kids are being more successful. The fact that the parents come to our parent meetings, in droves, actually, and say, "My kid is really loving that EMT class." "My kid is really enjoying studying something that means something."

Good job, guys. Good job.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Diane Demeé-Benoit
  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Tom Waldron
  • Mark Angelo


  • Noel Cisneros

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