Federal policymakers visit Porterville schools

A learning process known as Linked Learning, which got its start as a pilot program in 2008 at only a handful of schools including Porterville, is gaining in popularity and sweeping across not only Tulare County schools but across California.

Two Porterville high school campuses were paid a visit Thursday by federal policymakers who wanted to get a first hand look at the learning model that works to prepare students for college and careers by providing them work-based experience integrated with core academic subjects.

Representatives of Congress, Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle of the U.S. Department of Education and former governor of West Virginia Bob Wise visited Monache High School and Harmony Magnet Academy to hear from Porterville educators and Linked Learning partners about the learning approach, its benefits and how Porterville is serving as a mentor for other schools adopting the system.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Delisle, who was nominated for the position by President Barack Obama in 2012, said she learned about Linked Learning roughly a year ago and was intrigued by what she was hearing of the approach.

“It’s always important for us to find out where there are promising practices occurring in schools across the United States,” Delisle said. “And once I heard about the pathways learning programs here, it was just so critical for me to get to see what I was reading about. It’s important for us at the Department of Education that there are some really wonderful things happening with students and to be able to tell those stories and to offer those possibilities to other schools across the United States.”

Career pathways

Through Linked Learning, students have the opportunity to delve into a pathway, or career-themed subject — from health, agriculture, environmental science, engineering and more — and learn math, English, history and other academic subjects through exploration and experience in each discipline.

Students have the opportunity to work with regional employers to gain experience, are given mock interviews and write resumes so they are more prepared for what comes after high school.

Sixty-four percent of Porterville students are enrolled in one of nine pathways offered at Porterville high schools.

The federal representatives touring the two schools were able to observe pathways in action Thursday, visiting the Environmental Science Academy and Multimedia Technology Academy at Monache High School.

Groups of roughly 30 to 34 students travel throughout their four high school years through the pathway, Monache High School’s Multimedia and Technology Coordinator Gregg Snyder said.

The students in the pathway learn about web page design, video production, computer networking and more as they create the daily school broadcast, create the school yearbook, create business cards and fliers for local businesses and nonprofit groups and more, Snyder said.

Students from the pathway have gone on to be a part of the media arts program at the University of Southern California, Snyder said. One student went on to create graphics for a jet propulsion laboratory.

“The big thing for me is [pathway student’s] GPAs are usually one point higher than the average student,” he said. “We have 98 percent attendance over 80 percent with other students.”

Job experience

Monache junior Jordyn Duncan, 16, is a part of the Multimedia and Technology academy. She is currently learning about network security and in another class is working on creating a video production of the storybook “To Market, To Market,” with voiceovers and subtitles, and when the video is completed, it will be sent to a local elementary school class.

Duncan’s excited to showcase her work to younger students and to show them what will be available to them when they get into high school through Linked Learning.

Duncan, who one day hopes to become a professional photographer, said she’s learned an abundance of skills from the academy that will help her in her future career.

After walking through the two academies at Monache High School and seeing students at work, Deslisle said she was excited about the learning approach.

“I think it’s so much more important for us to not get kids to become professional page turners in a textbook, but to deal with real-world problems and to learn to interact with one another and solving problems that are posed by their teachers,” she said.

Porterville educators, along with members of the Linked Learning Alliance and Alliance For Excellent Education, said Linked Learning prepares students for a career or college and provides relevant hands-on experience.

Porterville school district Superintendent John Snavely said one of the more interesting benefits of the model is that since its implementation, both students and teachers miss less days at school.

“The absentee rate is lower,” he said. “The absentee rate for teachers that are teaching the pathways is lower. I attribute that to the teachers being more engaged with the students. The teachers are responding and it makes it more vibrant and exciting,” he said.

As Linked Learning expands to other schools across the state — as the state recently granted $15 million to Tulare and Kings counties’ schools for pathway projects — the approach will also continue to expand at Porterville schools, Snavely said.

He wants students to eventually graduate from the high schools’ pathways with no less than six college credits.

Fresno State’s Kremen School of Education is already offering priority admission to pathway students who graduate. He hopes to make more partnerships with other colleges and universities.

“I feel we’re doing a good job and that the districts we’re working with are very receptive. They’re open — almost like sponges. They’re getting and understand the value of all this,” he said.