On purpose and with the right tools, all students chart pathways to success at Atlantis Charter School.

GUEST COLUMN | by Robert Beatty          

In June, I presented high school diplomas to 40 young men and women at Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, Massachusetts. The Class of 2018 was the first class to graduate from our new high school and it boasts a remarkable statistic: 100 percent of graduates will attend college in the Fall.

The achievement is the result of hard work not just on the part of students, but also on the part of the Atlantis staff and an entire coalition of partners who set out to create a new model of education designed to prepare students for success in college and future careers.

Atlantis opened its doors in 1995 as a K-8 school. We just completed a four-year high school expansion, and the school now serves more than 1,200 students in grades K-12. The Class of 2018 was the first freshman class to enter our high school, and it is now the first class to graduate.

Success By Design

Our goal in designing our high school was to create a curriculum that would address the growing skills gap in the United States. One of the most common critiques in education is that students are graduating high school not knowing what is expected of them when they get to college or when they land their first job. We committed to closing that gap by providing students with the knowledge and training they need to be successful in 21st century careers.

We surveyed experts in local business, industry and higher education to find out what jobs are in demand now, which jobs are likely to be in-demand in the future, and what skills candidates must possess to fill those jobs. Armed with that knowledge, we created five school-to-career academies:

  • Business and Entrepreneurship
  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
  • Teacher Development
  • Health, Med-Tech, and Sports Medicine
  • Arts, Culture and Design

We teach our career academies alongside a traditional college preparatory curriculum. The academies are different from a vocational program in that they are not narrowly defined career tracks. They give a context to what careers in those fields might be like. Juniors and seniors are introduced to subject matter most students do not encounter until they enter college. The academy classes are taught by adjunct instructors. They are experts in their respective fields, and many still work, so they are up-to-date on current trends.

Cutting-Edge Tools

In order to give our students a hands-on learning experience, we provide them with the most cutting-edge tools available.

In our Health, Med-Tech and Sports Medicine Academy students practice on a SimMan, a full-size patient simulator we discovered on a visit to Harvard Medical School. Students use the robotic patient, which can cry, bleed, go into cardiac arrest and do any number of other things that humans do when their bodies are malfunctioning, to learn about the body and apply the medical knowledge they are learning. It’s a tool most students don’t use until they enter medical school, and this early exposure gives our students an advantage over their peers.

Over in the STEM lab, students are learning about product design using state-of-the-art computer programs and software. They can print out their designs on one of the four 3D printers located in their classroom. They also have access to a full metal and wood-working shop because traditional manufacturing methods are still important today

And students in the Art, Culture and Design Academy are using digital audio workstations to learn how to produce music and create compositions using software. The music curriculum is modeled closely after a course taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston. It teaches fundamental concepts of music so students are prepared regardless of whether they want to be a performer, a producer, or an engineer.

Community, Partner Support

None of this would be possible without support from the community. It really does take a village. Our coalition partners are committed to Atlantis’s success. They give advice on curriculum, they welcome students to their workplace or college campus for field trips, and they help to arrange internships.

Partnerships between schools, industry and higher education have the potential to shape the future of learning in this country. We’ve seen similar efforts here in Massachusetts and across the country, but Atlantis’s model is different. It is innovative because it leverages our local resources to a greater degree than we’ve seen in the past. Our programs use resources in the communities already serving our students.      

A Model Worth Sharing

It is clear to us that public schools must make changes to meet the demands of today’s fast-changing, increasingly global business world. As educators, we must adapt our methods so that our students graduate high school prepared for the challenges (and opportunities) ahead. Our approach is still in its infancy, and we will make adjustments along the way, but ultimately our hope is to share this model with other school districts across the country so that all students will graduate high school prepared to enter the 21st century workforce.

The Class of 2018 is poised to begin the next chapter in their lives. Every one of this year’s graduates are college bound. We are thrilled, but we know this will not always be the case. Regardless of what the future holds, we hope our students will take the skills and knowledge they learned at Atlantis and use it to find their own pathways to success.

Robert Beatty is the Executive Director of Atlantis Charter School, a position he has held since July 2009. His primary responsibilities involve the strategic, long-term planning for the school and the development of relationships with local, state, and national partners to bring the school’s vision to fruition. Write to: robert.beatty@atlantiscs.org