It’s all in the name for Henry W. Longfellow Career Exploration Academy, which Principal M. Scott Tatum describes as “an accelerated academic program for sixth- through eighth-grade students who are trying to figure out what they want to do in their next career – as a high school student.”
“We’re providing them an opportunity to try several things before they go off to a magnet school or high school with a more dedicated focus,” he said. “Most of our kids go off to one of the magnet high schools, so we get them ready to go.”
The magnet middle school offers five pathways now: in engineering; arts; audiovisual production; criminal law and justice; and business, technology and entrepreneurship. A sixth pathway, in culinary arts, will be added when the school moves to a new building, planned for 2024-2025.
“We decided on the culinary arts program based on student demand,” the principal said. “We looked at our longitudinal surveys about what students want, where they’re going and what they want now. And more than home economics, they want to start looking at how they can run food businesses or be chefs. So we’ll be able to bring that to them on the new campus.
“We’ve been having design meetings with our community, students, staff and parents about building a pretty amazing campus, which we’re really excited about. It’s going to be very state-of-the-art and will look unlike any other middle school in Dallas.”
The school has been honored with the National Blue Ribbon School award three times in recent years: in 2007, 2014 and 2020, when it was cited for academic achievement and closing the opportunity gap for underserved communities. Longfellow was also named one of the Top 10 middle schools in Texas by U.S. News and World Report, coming in at number 9 this year.
Longfellow is an “increasingly diverse campus, looking to be reflective of Dallas ISD as a whole,” Tatum said. “This year, we are 81% Latino; however, our incoming sixth graders are 77% Hispanic, 16% white and 6% African American.”
As with all magnet schools, there are testing and grade requirements. Potential Longfellow students have to meet those requirements and submit an essay, as well as undergo an interview.
“We are looking for kids who are advanced academically and who are ready to dive deep into one or multiple pathways,” the principal said. The school has a host of activities for students, including an Asian pop culture club, sports like soccer and volleyball during the day, Spanish, all the arts including band, dance, theater and visual arts, as well as a yearbook and other clubs.
There’s another benefit as well. “As a career exploration academy, our primary task is getting our students to understand the pathways open to them,” said Tatum. “And so we’ve planned, in our academic and career electives, opportunities for them to visit with over 96 different career representatives over the course of their three years here. They get to try out experiences in 96 different jobs, which is pretty exciting. We leverage our entire community, and now that everyone has a virtual option, we’re able to bring in career partners from around the country and the world to speak with our students about what they’re doing.”