JA Academy: Beyond the classroom walls

The JA Academy is empowering a generation to be more prepared and motivated than ever before. Real-world connectivity is infused into the everyday learning experience and the result is a highly engaging and relevant learning environment.

Case studies and site visits are two components that give students these types of opportunities to connect their academics to life beyond the classroom walls. Integrated with the regular curriculum,  they spend a month working through a business challenge presented by and in conjunction with advisors from the partnering company.

As the groups work to develop a solution to a real issue that the company has faced, they are exposed to the intricacies of the day-to-day for many employees in the business world. What makes this company who they are? How can we solve this challenge in a manner that reflects those values? What are the implications of our decision? Who do I collaborate with to make this happen?

The site visit serves not only as a culminating experience after a month of research, discussion and preparation, but also as an opportunity to discover positions, companies
and industries they may have not have even known existed.

The JA Academy at Norcross High School's first site visit was to WestRock, a global printing, packaging and recycling company headquartered just three miles from Norcross High. Through the case study methodology, the students quickly discovered that the process of printing something as unassuming as a tissue box involves infinitely more steps, collaboration and decision making than they imagined.

While in the Structural Design department, students began to make these connections right before our eyes. Does the client choose the design of the box? What if they don't like what you come up with? Let's back up; what kind of technology and background do you have to have to create these in the first place? What if the material the client wants doesn't do the job as well as another material may, how do you tell them that?

In a span of just a few minutes, students fed off of each other's questions to dive into what
actually goes on in these employees' day-to-day lives. They went beyond the surface level 'can you wear jeans to this job' questions into the questions that will begin shaping the trajectory of their own aspirations and futures.

These are the kinds of moments that we are striving for. When we provide these types of authentic experiences, students become energized around not only what they could one day become, but what they can do now to help get them there. That's where the transformation of education becomes obvious; when students begin connecting their academics to their future possibilities, they are motivated and empowered to go further than they can dream.