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Lorie Harris, a teacher with the health science program, left, talks with sophomore James McCormick on Monday at Walker Valley High School near Charleston, Tenn. The school will have academies within the school this year, including health science.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Walker Valley High School students returning to their classrooms today will be entering a school with a new way of teaching and learning.

"The original high school [education] model began in 1893," Principal Danny Coggin said. "We are trying to change that. It's been around for a while, and we are trying to go in a different direction."

The high school introduced its three new academies Monday. An academy, essentially a school within the school, groups students with common academic interests in one area, along with their teachers.

Walker Valley has had a freshman academy for the seven years. A business academy, a humanities academy and a science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy are new this year.

Sophomores with a more scientific bent, for example, signed up for the STEM academy. In that part of the building they will find classes related to medicine, agriculture, math, science and computer-assisted designing.

Teachers also signed up for the academies, including those who teach core academic subjects such as English and history. A history teacher in the STEM academy might put special attention on historic scientific breakthroughs, for example.

The change gives students a "foundation under their feet," Coggin said, whether they are going into a career, college or the military.

Many courses in each of the academies are certified by industries. Students taking those can get special certifications in whatever industries they study, giving them an early boost in the workforce.

"They are work ready," health sciences teacher Toni Schuman said.

She said one of her students could leave high school as a certified nursing assistant, get a full-paying hospital job and continue studies, too.

The business academy puts an emphasis on computer applications for business, accounting, management and marketing. The humanities academy has a special focus on world languages, literature, art, criminal justice, broadcasting and music.

Coggin said students are not locked into a particular academy but are free to take electives in other academies.

There are 16 teachers in the freshman academy, 22 in the business academy, 25 in the STEM academy and 23 in the humanities academy.

Contact staff writer Randall Higgins at or 423-314-1029.