Porterville education program is leading the way

Many may not know where the city of Porterville is or may never have even heard of the Tulare County region.

The city is getting on the map though and drawing attention as it leads the way among educators with a new approach to teaching high school students. The method prepares students for careers in broadcast journalism, law and other fields and gets them in commercial kitchens, out and designing buildings and readies them for what comes after high school — college or a career.

This system is called Linked Learning.

It started in California in Porterville — along with 8 other school districts scattered across the state — six years ago and is now expanding to schools across the state including to Visalia, Tulare and other local schools.

Visalia’s Golden West High School is introducing its combined agricultural and engineering pathway this upcoming school year and Mt. Whitney High School is getting a health sciences pathway. The programs will continue to expand as Tulare and Kings county schools were in May granted $15 million from the state to grow and get more students away from traditional teaching methods and into Linked Learning.

And Porterville is providing its expertise and knowledge of the program to the schools.

Check out what Porterville Unified School District’s program provides students and how it’s grown and continues to expand since first delving into Linked Learning in 2008.

What is Linked Learning?

PUSD Director of Pathways Cynthia Brown said Linked Learning is simple. It moves away from old methods of teaching students by answering the question of why students need to learn the humdrum topics including mathematics, English and science.

A pathway — or academy — is a career-inspired subject, such as health, culinary arts, engineering, agriculture, or the performing arts, that is infused into academics.

In high schools that use Linked Learning, students have the option to choose a pathway and to take courses that are completely focused within the subject. The courses start in a student’s freshman year and span through their senior year.

Brown said for example, in an engineering pathway, students may be focused on building a bridge.

In the students’ chemistry class, they may focus on studying buoyancy. In their math class, they could study measurements and the weight the structure can take on when in the process of being constructed. In English, the students could read about the history of bridges or may write a research paper presenting data analysis on the topic.

The studies are supplemented with help from regional employers that donate their time and expertise to regularly provide guest speaking, demonstrations, job shadowing, paid and unpaid internships and more to the students.

Brown said it’s a totally revolutionary approach.

“It’s an approach to expose students early to college and career options that they may have never thought of before,” Brown said. “And parents can grab on to that and understand that. Students are not locked on to the pathway but hopefully it opens their horizon to that scene.”

Growth of Porterville’s program

Porterville was first introduced to Linked Learning in 2007, when the district began entertaining the idea of opening a high school focused on different pathways. The district started applying for small high school construction grants and in 2008, Harmony Magnet Academy opened with only a 127 freshmen class with two pathways — engineering and performing arts.

Fast forward to today and all five Porterville high schools offer a total of 10 pathways.

Four years ago, 29 percent of incoming eighth graders were applying to partake in the individual pathways and now 66 percent of the incoming class is applying, Brown said.

She said the program is so successful, 98 percent of Porterville students following the pathways go on to college — both 4-year and community colleges.

Porterville is hoping to continue the growth.

In fall 2015, Porterville High School’s campus will get a green academy called AERO — or Alternative Energy Resource Occupations Academy. Enrollment will soon open up for students interested in focusing their studies on solar paneling for commercial and residential use, renewable energy and more.

And with the $15 million distributed to Tulare and Kings county schools, the district is hoping within the next three years to get a culinary arts pathway at Monache High School that is focused on hospitality tourism and recreation and another on manufacturing and product development.

They are also hoping to get a leadership and military institute that is a replication of a military institute in Oakland.

Visalia‘s taking the leap

Visalia Unified School District Director of Career Technical Education Bill Davis said the district is embracing Linked Learning and considers themselves a Linked Learning District.

Davis said school officials are hoping to receive close to $1 million from the $15 million awarded to Tulare and Kings counties and they already have plans of expanding Linked Learning at Visalia schools.

The district will get its first taste this school year of the program with pilot programs at Golden West and Mt. Whitney.

Golden West’s agricultural and engineering pathway and Mt. Whitney’s health sciences pathway are both filled to capacity with 60 students enrolled and ready to try out the programs when school starts Aug. 14.

“We’re all excited,” said Davis. “The concept of Linked Learning, it is open access for students and brings opportunities for students who may not already have a plan for their future and gives them the opportunity to get career ready and experience and under a career theme.”

Davis said the district’s goal is to have eight academies at Visalia high schools by fall 2015 and eventually 11 pathways district-wide at all of Visalia‘s five high schools.

If all goes according to plan, by 2015 Redwood will have an engineering and architecture pathway, Mt. Whitney will have a computer programming information technology academy, El Diamante will have an arts and media pathway and VTEC will have an animal sciences academy, an ag technology pathway and a food sciences technology pathway.

Davis said school officials are anticipating all of Visalia’s roughly 2,400 high students to in the near future be following a pathway.