Marana High School's "Freshman Academy" program is set to receive a 2010 Golden Bell Award at a lunch presentation today in Phoenix.
Each year, the Arizona School Boards Association gives Golden Bell Awards to academic programs that have shown outstanding successes in student achievement, are student-oriented, show creativity and show leadership in curriculum development.
The association received nearly 50 entries from 29 school districts in Arizona.
Only four awards are given - one each in the elementary, middle and high school divisions and another for districtwide curriculum.
Four runners-up also are chosen. Marana Middle School is a runner-up this year in that division.
The Freshman Academy is sort of an offshoot of Marana High School's overall "academy" concept, in which non-freshman students choose to follow tracks in business, the arts, medicine or science and technology while they are in high school.
That means students take regular classes, but those classes have a slight twist based on which academy a student is in, said Principal Jim Doty.
For example, he said, students on the medical track - in what's known as the "MedStart" academy - could still read Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" in English, but they might be encouraged to pay more attention to the medical aspects of the characters.
Likewise, in history, they might spend more time talking about Adolf Hitler's mental illness.
The idea of academies isn't to force students to choose a career path early in life, Doty said, but rather to teach high school subjects in a way that interests pupils.
"Students are more motivated when you can relate it to something they're interested in," he said.
In the Freshman Academy, students cycle through all four of the school's academies, changing at the beginning of each new quarter, so they get a taste of what each is like to help them make a decision in time for their sophomore year.
In addition, they learn other basics such as study skills, learning styles, communication styles and community service.
Meanwhile, upperclassmen who have become Link leaders - students who work with freshmen to help them get more comfortable with the school - teach classes in the Freshman Academy one day a week, and learn teaching skills by doing so.
Seniors Alex Green and Jeremiah Palicka, both 18, are Link leaders in two academies - Green in MedStart and Palicka in Business and Human Services.
Both remember their Link leaders and how much more at ease they felt about the school because of them, they said.
Both students are part of the contingent heading to Phoenix today, and they will give a presentation on the Freshman Academy program during breakout sessions after the luncheon.
This year marks the first time in the 28-year history of the Golden Bells in which the winners will make presentations following the banquet, said John Gordon, director of leadership for the Arizona School Boards Association.
He said the group's leaders looked at each other and said, "Why wouldn't we have these people present? They're the best in the state."
The award shows that students are getting something out of the Freshman Academy program, Palicka said.
"You don't usually look at the big picture, and when you do, it kind of surprises you" because that's when you realize how much you're getting done, he said.
Contact reporter Shelley Shelton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8464.