Porterville Unified is one of several school districts in California to experiment with the Linked Learning model, emphasizing instruction in specific industries such as law and justice, environmental sciences, engineering and performing arts.
The Linked Learning approach has the potential to catch on nationwide as the “redesigning high school” movement grows, said Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle.
She toured science, English and video production classrooms, stopping frequently to converse with students and teachers.
“I’ve heard so many wonderful stories about the school and the school district,” she said. “I like to follow up and be sure the story is true.”
Delisle also toured Harmony Magnet Academy in Strathmore.
Monache offers two programs: the Environmental Science Academy and Multimedia Technology Academy, in which students take all of their classes together, including academic core classes such as English and history.
“This is a really good example” of a high school keeping students interested in education, Delisle said. “The school and the community are solving the problem of kids feeling divorced from education.”
Students said they like their classes.
“I love how all the students are together. We’re like a big family,” said Demi Boyd, 17, a senior in the Multimedia Technology Academy.
Steve Ecobiza, 17, a senior in the Environmental Studies Academy, told Delisle that he had an internship working with a forestry manager tagging trees that were near death or infected.
Delisle asked if he received class credit for the experience.
“That was my first-ever paycheck,” Ecobiza said. “That was awesome.”
Valery Vigil, 15, a junior in the Environmental Science Academy, said she likes the field trips.
“We’ve been to an abalone farm on the coast, and to Catalina Island,” she said. “I wanted to be a psychologist but this changed my mind.”
Melissa Tuttle, a junior in the Multimedia Technology Academy, said her history teacher assigned a PowerPoint presentation and video project.
She knew she could do it because “I had access to cameras and had skills I learned” in the program. “It has prepared me with so many lifelong skills.”
Environmental Sciences Academy students showed Delisle and congressional staffers who joined Delisle on the tour the native plants they used to landscape the front of the school, a project that involved getting advice from experts in the community.
Delisle said she likes that the Linked Learning approach gets students more involved in their education.
“What I really love is the opportunity for students to find an area of interest and hone in on it,” she said. “It’s not just learning about life in a text, it’s about going out into the field and how to solve a problem.”
The business community strongly supports Linked Learning, said John Corkins, CEO of Research for Hire in Porterville. When students serve internships at his business, “our people don’t want to give them up,” he said.
College eductors also like it, said Paul Beare, dean of the Kremen School of Education & Human Development at California State University, Fresno.
“This is the best school reform model I’ve seen,” he said.
Porterville Unified Superintendent John Snavely said specialized programs — nine “pathways” are offered in Porterville Unified high schools — keep students engaged so they won’t drop out.
The demographics of students in the academies is the same as the school district, he said.
To help California schools educate students for high-growth industries, the Legislature approved $500 million in competitive grants.
So far, $250 million has been given out, including to a consortium of school districts in Tulare and Kings counties.
In Tulare and Kings, some grant money will be used so teachers with experience in Linked Learning can pass the knowledge to other teachers, Snavely said.
Fresno County schools unsuccessfully applied for a grant last year and will probably apply in the next round, said Hilary McLean, deputy director of the Linked Learning Alliance in Sacramento, which advocates for Linked Learning.
Delisle’s tour was arranged by the Alliance for Excellent Education, an education policy group in Washington, D.C., and Linked Learning Alliance.
BY LEWIS GRISWOLD
The Fresno BeeSeptember 25, 2014