While bouncing from foster families to homeless shelters, a Chief Sealth
student still somehow managed to find dressy clothes to wear to class.
The girl knew that to stay in the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism,
she was required to don business attire on Tuesdays.
That was three years ago. Through her commitment to the academy, she
found that she loved hospitality, landed at a flight attendant training
program in Vancouver, Wash., and secured a job with an airline.
“Now here she is, she’s got a flight attendant badge on, and she is so
excited,” says her teacher, Gary Perkins. “That makes it all
This student is not alone: Statistics reveal an astounding success rate
for Seattle Public Schools’ career academies. They boast a 99 percent
graduation rate, with 96 percent of students going on to postsecondary
Chief Sealth offers two career academies: the Academy of Finance and the
Academy of Hospitality and Tourism. Franklin and Ballard high schools
both offer the Academy of Finance. All have been awarded “model status”
in recent years as top career academies in the country. They are
sponsored by the National Academy Foundation and its local affiliate,
the Seattle Academy Foundation.
The academies are a rarity in Washington state, which has only three
other National Academy Foundation programs, two in the Highline School
District and another at a skills center near Olympia.
The best part? Seattle’s 350-plus career academy students come from
diverse backgrounds in income, race and academic achievement. Students
submit essays for selection into the program; teachers don’t look at
grades or test scores.
About a third of the academy students are white, a third are Asian, a
fifth are African-American and a tenth are Hispanic/Latino. Nearly
two-thirds of the academy students qualify for free or reduced-price
“We have students who would have been dropouts,” says Perkins, who
teaches the academy content with a team of teachers at Sealth. “Some of
them struggle in math and English, but they love these classes.”
In Chief Sealth’s Academy of Finance, students take a series of four
semester-long business courses in their junior and senior years,
including Entrepreneurship and an Economics course cross-listed with the
school’s International Baccalaureate program.
The 48 local business leaders who sit on the Seattle Academy Foundation
board serve as mentors and help place students in paid summer
internships between junior and senior years with high-profile companies
such as Key Bank and Marriott Corp. Coordinators help students raise
funds to pay for a senior trip to New York City.
The program works because students see the course content as directly
relevant to their lives and their future careers. And because they spend
two full years together, they get to know one another as a family and
hold each other accountable for success, no matter what their
circumstances outside of school – which means no complaining or slacking
The attitude is “don’t go boo-hoo, because everyone’s got a story here at Sealth,” Perkins says. “It’s about results.”