Linked Learning gaining momentum

Doug Murdock is a young man who is attending College of the Sequoias to start his career goal in becoming a California licensed Architect. While attending school, he is working part-time at a local architecture firm that has invested in him as a result from a partnership with Porterville Unified School District. Doug has gained invaluable experience working for this company and assisting with the design of his alma mater’s masterplan projects. He’s also worked on complex multi-story facilities such as a new three-story 87,000-square-foot administration office and conference center — all while finishing his first year towards his associate’s degree in architecture. Why would a company take a risk in hiring this young man? Very simply, his skills and confidence grew after his years of training with the company from the time he was a high school sophomore. Doug graduated from Harmony Magnet Academy of Engineering, one of the nine industry-themed pathways offered by the Porterville Unified School District. There he was exposed to an educational approach that combines rigorous academics with relevant career-focused education, real-world work experience, and student support services offered by post-secondary and employer partners. Visalia Unified School District, Lindsay Unified School District, and other members of the Tulare-Kings Linked Learning Consortium have also been invited to create regional partnerships in an effort to prepare students for college and career success. Significant partnerships have been made in other industries as well; a global solar photovoltaic company has provided internships for Porterville and Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District on a week-long comprehensive solar science summer experience for 40 high school students — and is showing returns. The project design and implementation strategy has been shown to improve student awareness and engagement both in and out of school. A survey of students involved in this experience indicated increased involvement of parents, a better plan for graduation and more motivation to work harder. This 21st-learning experience is called Linked Learning; whether the theme is engineering, agriculture, energy or digital arts, Linked Learning students are engaged and excited at the prospect of working with industry professionals. This type of engagement translates to better attendance, and higher grade-point averages, graduation and college-bound rates. National studies on career academies have also shown that participating students were more productive

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after graduation —they went on to work 12 percent more hours per week and earned 11 percent more money than their counterparts. There is also the matter of closing the skills gap. Many job applicants lack the technical and “soft” skills necessary for many of the available positions in our industries. According to a recent report by the business leaders organization ReadyNation/America’s Edge, California is facing a potential shortage of 2 million workers for middle- and high-skill jobs over the over the next decade. Linked Learning addresses this problem by directly connecting public education to the needs of our economy. Linked Learning is gaining major momentum in California and throughout the nation. Locally, investments made by Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak and others to create and help expand real employer engagement through INNOVATE Tulare-Kings County are applauded. With INNOVATE, the Tulare-Kings Pathways Project and Tulare-Kings Linked Learning Consortium will expand partnerships to more than 45 pathway programs working with 445 employers and community organizations. Through the Pathways Project, the Tulare-Kings Linked Learning Consortium is anticipating that 10,357 students will be provided opportunities to work side by side with local employers and community colleges by 2017. These regional efforts have not gone unnoticed by the California Department of Education, which recently announced that the Tulare County Office of Education was one of 39 recipients of the Career Pathways Trust funding, a one-time $250 million competitive grant program designed to increase student access to career pathways programs that connect businesses, K–12 schools, and community colleges to better prepare students for the 21st-century workplace. The Tulare-Kings Linked Learning Consortium is one of 12 consortia in the state slated to receive up to $15 million in funding. In an article published by the Linked Learning Alliance last Friday, there were close to three-times the available $250 million in submitted grant applications. Recognizing the high demand to reform our students’ education through partnerships with community colleges and industry professionals, the state legislature and Governor Jerry Brown agreed to include a second infusion of a one-time $250 million funding for the Career Pathways Trust program in the 2014-15 State Budget. Significant philanthropic and private sector investments have also been made by the James Irvine Foundation and JPMorgan Chase, and the U.S. Department of Labor also recently announced $100 million in grants through its Youth CareerConnect program. This unprecedented level of engagement, combined with the outpouring of financial support, will help ensure that Linked Learning will continue to transform high school education in the Central Valley and will also ultimately impact the future success of our workforce and California’s economy.   Gilbert Bareng is an architect with Mangini Associates Inc. Tellian Parish McLain and a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.