George Lucas Educational Foundation

Academies Raise the Bar at a Comprehensive High School

Focusing on careers in green energy and manufacturing technology improves attendance and test scores at Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, California. More to this story.
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Academies Raise the Bar at a Comprehensive High School (Transcript)

Douglas: We're very diverse. We have all the same issues that any high school in America has, but by offering kids options that they can see that what they're learning is relevant beyond the walls of the high school, is what's key.

Narrator: In 1995, Laguna Creek opened its first school within a school career academy. The Manufacturing Production Technology Academy.

Student: You designed that one in Engineering class?

Student: Yeah.

Student: You lucky son of a gun.

Dave: Today we're launching rockets. Students have designed these rockets on a CAD program called, RockSim, and so that program allows them to test a number of parameters. The point is to help them learn the physics. The fun part is that they get to design and launch a rocket.

In order to determine the height, we have one known angle, so theta here.

Narrator: Today, Laguna Creek has three academies. Each academy accepts about 70 students who move through the curriculum as a group. They take project based college prep courses that integrate core academic subjects with technical training.

Dave: We have students in this physics class, everything from special ed. students to AP students, and everything in between. And when they've taken the standardized tests in the past, they tend to do much better than the general population. It seems that they understand the material better if we're not just focused on taking lecture notes and doing calculations. So when they can experience it, it seems to make a big difference in their level of understanding.

Chris: The wind turbine uses the fan's power to create electricity, and then when we flip the circuit, it will power the pump.

Narrator: The Green Energy Technology Academy, or GETA, is dedicated to the burgeoning field of alternative energy production.

Chris: And I get to, like, work with my hands, and think about problems and work through them, more than just, like, sitting at a desk and writing down. It's more fun, and you get to learn in a better way.

Eric: So those things that you've found should be able to increase the growth.

In designing the curriculum, I looked at a couple of things. What were the types of renewable energy that existed, wind and solar and biofuels, and geothermal, and hydroelectric, are all types of renewable energies, and then from there, I said, okay, of these different types, which would allow for pretty decent hands on projects, and that really guided my development of the courses.

Sobe: This is our go-kart. We got a grant from Lowes for 200 dollars to get all the supplies, the metal, the wood. We researched design, how to make it efficient, and we spent about nine weeks designing it, planning it, and making it. It's been great. You know, there's been a lot of time and effort, blood and sweat that went into our work. It's been quite an experience.

Eric: Each project is a team driven project. You know, each team has a project manager, a technician, an auditor and a recorder, and each day, each student is given a job they need to fulfill for that particular project. They take pictures and video and put together a PowerPoint that chronicles their work throughout the term. At the very end, they always present to a panel of experts that we bring in, that's related to that field.

Chris: This is a closed loop photobioreactor and it's a very good apparatus for growing about 40 gallons worth of algae for testing.

Narrator: The academy has partnered with several green businesses, who provide expertise and mentorships.

Chris: It's our responsibility as industry people who are out there on the cutting edge, to be mentors and help the students understand where the industry is going, and give them some of the tools to help them succeed in that.

Reanna: How does this help our job market?

Chris: So there's a lot of jobs that are created from the production of the material, and then there's lots of jobs created from the pipe fitting and these kinds of things that need to be done, to put them together.

Narrator: In addition to offering career options, the green academy kept Reanna from dropping out of school.

Reanna: My mom would go to work, and I would just stay home when she went to work, because she would leave before I even woke up, and she wouldn't know I didn't go to school, because she wouldn't be home until after I got out of school. So it was just basically easy to stay home, and I did that for about six months, and then I started, like, seeing what Mr. Johnston's projects were about, and I started just coming to fourth period, which was Mr. Johnston's class, and then I started coming to third and fourth period, and then gradually started working my way up to first period. And I currently maintain a 4.0-- almost my whole junior year.

Douglas: When you take a look at academy versus a general ed. population, you find that the academy students, generally, are academically stronger, they test better, the attendance is better, everything has increased positively.

Narrator: For more information about, What Works in Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Associate Producers

  • Doug Keely
  • Kathy Baron

Camera Crew

  • Mike Elwell
  • Hugh Scott

Additional Camera

  • Doug Keely
  • Ken Ellis

Video Programming Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Michael Pritchard

Original Music

  • Ed Bogas

Edutopia's Schools That Work Merging Career Tech and College Prep installment is supported by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation.

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Cinematic Independent Coffee Distributor

Hello, my name is Andre Lionel Howard. I am a filmmaker by chosen profession. I am developing a children's edu-tainment motion picture titled ANGEL KIDS. The purpose of AK is to both educate and entertain the PG-13 audience as to how energy works.
Taking a snap shot of the world in 2001 and projecting that reality twenty years into the future. Where will this world look like. The story focuses on angels whom come to earth to help living life move to a new world of renewable energy.
I am interested in an educational structure that would suffice fot this challenge.
Thank you.

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