Best Practices

Mayor Nancy Graham

Forest Hill Environmental Sciences and Technology Academy

The City of West Palm Beach is an economically and socially diverse area which, like many major metropolitan areas in the United States, has seen its population base change dramatically in the last 10 years. A large influx of immigrants from South American and Caribbean countries has changed the face of the community and the schools which are an integral part of the community.

One of the schools which was heavily affected by these changes was Forest Hill High School. Forest Hill, located in what used to be a traditional middle class neighborhood, is one of Palm Beach County' s first high schools. Until the late 1980's the school was often referred to as "The Public Prep School." A changing school population was not something that the traditional staff or students of this school were prepared to deal with. Morale, test scores and student involvement at the school declined through the end of the 1980's, at which time the student population was almost equally one-third white, Hispanic and black. The situation came to a boiling point during Homecoming Week of 1991 when a conflict between students of different ethnic groups erupted on the football field. It became obvious that the staff was no longer running the school. Parents demanded solutions. Mayor Nancy Graham, who was elected at almost the same time in November of 1991, quickly stepped forward to deal with the problem.

A community task force chaired by the Mayor was formed to work with the Palm Beach County School District and the Forest Hill High School staff to develop the Environmental Sciences and Technology Academy. The task force, which has turned into a steering committee, is comprised of representatives of the education, government and business community, as well as other agencies. The concept is that community development of an educational program is a "win-win" situation in which both the employee side (educators and students) and the employer side (businesses and governments) develop a mutually beneficial program to provide real-life, hands-on learning opportunities outside of the traditional classroom.

The Academy was founded to teach students the skills necessary for success in the environmental science and technology fields; its mission is to facilitate optimal learning to empower each student to effectively compete across all levels in the global marketplace of environmental science and technology. While the Academy prepares students for college, it also prepares students who will not be going to college with the education and workplace experiences necessary to become gainfully employed after graduation.

The Academy enhances the students' knowledge and understanding of the environment and prepares the students for life-long learning and contributions to society by using an integrated, multi-disciplinary curriculum emphasizing problem solving, incorporating workplace skills, linking students to private industry and governmental organizations for real-world experiences, mentoring, internships, articulation agreements with institutions of higher learning, and off-site learning opportunities. Utilizing computer and technological approaches, students explore and evaluate the many challenges related to their own environment: water supply, ecosystem restoration, wastewater re-use, solid waste disposal, drinking water quality, aquifer contamination and restoration, and storm water runoff.

The steering committee has developed several subcommittees to contribute to the success of the Academy. Each committee has the same diverse characteristics as the steering committee to ensure that the needs of the students and potential employers (businesses and governments) are being met.

As the Academy approaches its second year of operation, its success is obvious. Morale at the school has improved to the point that small groups of teachers are busily planning their own school centers, modeled after the Academy, to open in the fall of 1996. More than 50 percent of the student population in the Academy is Hispanic and African American. Academy test scores are, on the average, 40 percent higher than those of students enrolled in regular programs. As one Hispanic student noted recently, "I feel so much more safety here now."

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (407) 659-8025

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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