Skip to main content

Innovation in Action: An Educator’s View on Inclusive Pathways

The path to your true calling is rarely linear in our ever-changing world. Educator Karen Arcidiacono dreamed of becoming a broadcast news producer in New York City. She ended up in education, almost accidentally, when her dad encouraged her to find a ‘practical job.’ What she found was her dream career, helping New Jersey’s learners find their pathways to fulfilling work and, more importantly, lives through innovative, comprehensive high school programming.

A former middle and high school English teacher, Karen was known for being a “fixer” in her schools and always looking for ways to improve teaching and learning for her students and everyone in her school. Her principal saw her leadership potential and supported her on her path to becoming the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Projects in a neighboring district.

Today, she has fostered an incredible pathways program that opens doors to 19 programs of study- from STEM-based programming like Engineering and Aviation to more hands-on, career-ready options like the building trades. Now, she gets to work with a team of educators to see their potential and support them on their career pathways:

In our work, we always prioritize students’ needs. In consideration of that is who they are, what they want for themselves as learners, and what we can offer as educators. On our campus, we have the benefit of diversity: diversity in thought, nationality, sending municipality, programming, and educator industry experience among them. There are nearly 30 languages spoken in the homes of our students, each who come from contrasting neighborhoods who have the gift of experience, existing shoulder to shoulder with someone likely more “different” from them than they are the same. Therein lies the beauty in both learning and teaching. I believe no one person hold either role exclusively. All are welcome and can find success in our school!

Our differences are our strengths. We aim to open our students’ eyes to all the world offers them while fostering a deep love for their roots. We always start with the community first. We work to care for each other, give back to our local community, and then scale that globally. Our advisory boards includes 300 industry leaders to support and inform the work that we do. This means that our programming aligns with the needs of the local workforce but also creates opportunities beyond South Jersey

We work diligently to honor and celebrate everyone’s uniqueness. Our students’ nationalities are represented in the building’s thoroughfare we call “Main Street.” The flags of their home lands adorn the walls, a subtle reminder of from where we all come. We take pride in recognizing and networking with educators and stakeholders in which our kids can see themselves whether by gender, disability, or work force experience. These subtle messages remind us all that everyone’s dreams have value and your identity doesn’t keep you from exploring, its the propeler that makes it possible.

A distinctive requirement for our students allows liberty with the Carnegie Unit. A typical NJ senior will graduate with 120 credits. Our students earn 160 credits – their 120 academic credits and 40 career and technical education credits aligned to their goals and programs of study. They are also afforded opportunities for dual credit course work articulated with varying universities and  eal work-based learning – much like I did as a teen when I was able to spend part of my days working in a law firm. The focus also pays attention to the sft skills– aside from learning critical academic skills, we provide opportunities for students to hone the digital, media and global literacies, logical thinking, argument and debate, confidence, community service, kindness, public speaking, question development, and likely most important–listening. 

The work happening in South Jersey is so inspiring. Future-thinking educators and policymakers in the state are working to ensure that their young people have the systems and support to be successful in such programs and beyond. Now is the time for federal policy to uplift and bolster such important work.

Karen Arcidiacono

Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Special Projects with Over Two Decades of Professional Experience

What is one piece of advice you have for first-year teachers?

I’d tell novice educators to embrace the experience. It is all shades of the human condition, whatever your belief systems, whatever discipline or theme you’re applying. I’ll share the metaphor shared with me during my first year. Teaching is like building a house: the first year, you’re surveying the land, taking it all in, and laying the foundation; the second year is when the walls go up, and a form of sorts takes shape;  in the third year, you place the roof on, and by the fourth year, you’re ready to decorate the space and make it your own. It is a most humbling and rewarding experience to affect the life of someone’s child indefinitely. As long as you continually work to be your best self in all facets– to grow, to be patient, to laugh, to have fun, to reflect, and be willing to improve and learn from everyone and everything around you, it will be the most exhilarating protean experience for as long as it lasts.

Be a Guest Author

Learn More

Rebeca Shackleford

Director of Federal Government Relations

Meet Rebeca