Each year, forty-eight middle and high school teachers in the Miami area are released from regular classroom responsibilities for nine weeks to research, develop, practice, and evaluate curriculum and teaching methods. Under a program run by the Dade Academy for the Teaching Arts (DATA), based at Miami Beach Senior High School, these teachers, known as "externs," use their sabbaticals to work on projects related to their interests and disciplines. Their teaching duties are assumed by a cadre of highly trained replacement teachers.
Externs receive support from DATA resident teachers -- classroom teachers who spend part of their time helping externs refine their research, identify resources and experts, and arrange visits to innovative programs and classrooms.
The DATA teachers, who were selected for their high levels of expertise, also conduct seminars for the externs on issues such as child development and technology integration. "At DATA, the word 'professional' is really upheld," says Ricki Wehye, a DATA resident teacher. "We give our teachers recognition for a job well done, treat them as friends, and make them proud again of being a teacher."
Since DATA's creation in 1987, externs have completed more than 600 projects ranging from the development of a curriculum unit on the Holocaust to the creation of a mentoring program that pairs high-achieving students with less advantaged peers. The externs share their projects with interested colleagues and the entire collection of projects has been indexed and made available to every school in the district.