July 6, 2020
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Rancho’s ninth grade academies appeal to student interest

  • Dr. Louis Ganzler, Principal at Rancho Cotate high school, shows six 9th Grade Academies being offered to Freshmen and will be taught in the new TAG Building. Photo by Jane Peleti

By: Lanny Lowery
February 1, 2019

Rancho Cotate Principal Louis Ganzler reveals another innovative plan that intends to lead to more freshman success and put incoming students on a path that will lead to discovery and career.  Eighth graders are making choices this month to enter into one of six academies designed to appeal to each student’s interest.

Ganzler explained that each eighth grader would select two possible academies from a list of six:  Computer Science, Biomedical, Drama Production, Law and Justice, Careers in Sports and Film.  The student will be placed in one of the two academies chosen.  On one of the two block schedule days, the student would take, for example, English, World History, Film and Freshman Foundations.  The English and World History classes would focus on film.  An English class might have a component of script writing or a study of a piece of literature presented in film.  

All three teachers would share a common preparation period so that they could plan together.  The meeting would also allow the three teachers to look at individual students and their academic performance as well as their behavior issues.  This combined with the Freshman Foundations course, which would end this day, would help to reinforce freshman success.

The most important part of this academic pathway program is that it appeals to students’ interests as well as the teacher’s interests.  “This will create opportunities for teachers to combine what they most powerfully do,” emphasized Principal Ganzler.  The interest sharing will become extremely contagious between the teacher partners and with the students.

Ganzler noted that the pathways plan is not altogether original.  Others have tried various aspects of it.  The Rancho now has the benefit of using the block schedule that allows the teachers to have a common preparation time to develop themes and share experiences.  Three teachers and ninety students could work together or have common presentations or take field trips on the academic pathway day and students would not miss instruction.

After ninth grade, the students can continue to explore the chosen pathway.  For example, a student who began with the biomedical studies can take courses such as Medical Terminology, Human Body Systems Medical Interventions, Anatomy and AP Biology.  And, by having the academy only in ninth grade, other students might also take some or all of these courses.

The Law and Justice Academy introduces students to themes of law and justice.  Students will explore careers in fields such as law enforcement, politics, law, public service, criminology and psychology.  Students will participate in mock trials, visit courtrooms and be provided with opportunities to intern with law enforcement agencies.  These students could go on to study Criminal Law, Psychology and AP Government.

The opening of the Theater Arts Gymnasium (TAG) Building expands the possibilities for the Drama Production Academy.  On the second day of the block, students can add an elective to mesh with their study in drama, English and World History as they may choose one of the following courses:  Set Design, Art Design or Costume Design.  The Drama Academy allows students to learn much about lighting and sound, marketing and production, set construction, and prop and costume design as well as acting and directing.  Students can continue their drama production studies by taking Advanced Drama and Stagecraft, Advanced Sewing, Advanced Woodworking, Contemporary and Latin Literature, AP Literature and Language and Shakespeare.

With a 1.9-million-dollar deficit looming over the school district, a question about costs seemed appropriate.  Ganzler did not see that the academies and pathways would have a negative impact on the budget.

How will the school assess this program?  “Grades will be a reflection of how engaged students are.  Combining the power of electives will motive students to work,” replied the principal.  With academic pathways, Rancho Cotate continues to strive to make students successful.