State Superintendent connects with Linked Learning in Strathmore

Paul Meyers

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson visited Harmony Magnet Academy in Strathmore on Aug. 22 to examine how Career Technical Education is evolving in the Central Valley.

“Our goal across the State is to offer this (type of education) widely…learning from the real world…and meet learning with the needs of the economy,” Torlakson said.

Guided by Harmony upper classmen Fred Alcantar and Vivianna Gomez, Torlakson toured several career pathways through several rooms of the high school.

Career Technical Education and schools like Harmony Magnet Academy primarily offer courses that revolve around Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. Therefore, the students with a strong desire to pursue STEM careers are given the opportunity to explore them more completely at the high school level.

One of Torlakson’s stops on campus was a chemistry class where sophomore John Probst was enrolled in the class.

“I transferred from the Summit Charter Collegiate Academy to here…and I want to go to Cal Poly for college and major in Aerospace engineering,” Probst said.

With each passing class, Torlakson became increasingly impressed with the caliber of the students, staff’s interactive teaching style and the state-of-the-art facilities. One course offers a 3D printer where students can create a digital model of an object and then have it robotically built by carving plastic and other materials with precision lasers.

Engineering teacher Scott Karjala displayed some previous students work from his class where students are meant to create a remedy to some sort of real world problem.

“They’re in their brainstorming phase, they’re discovering stuff they like and things they can do,” Karjala said.

One student created a cooking lid for a stove pan designed to reduce grease splash. The lid was fitted with plastic flaps that would allow the cook to flip the bacon with tongs without the fear of being burned by the grease popping inside.

“I chose this class because it was more fun than the rest,” said Harmoney junior Valerie Martinez said.

Torlakson’s last stop was in Jose Valazquez’s Algebra 2 course. Valazquez was quick to point out how the students were incorporating technology into the learning process as each student was following the lesson plan on a computer. Valazquez used his animated style of teaching to engage both the students, media and Torlakson. He challenged them to solve a real world Algebra problem regarding the estimation of the number of fish in a pond as an example of how the new Common Core standards are being integrated into the lesson plan. On that note, Valazquez did not let Torlakson just observe the class as he challenged the State Superintendent to use a remote pneumatic propulsion mechanism to fire a dart across the room at a particular target.

Porterville Unified School District, which encompasses Harmony Magnet Academy and Strathmore High School in Strathmore, is the mentor district for the Tulare-Kings Pathways Project. On May 30, Torlakson announced the partnership of businesses, schools and non-profits was awarded a $14.8 million grant from the California Career Pathways Trust (CPT), one of just 12 programs statewide in the top funding category. The CPT funding will help the Tulare-Kings Pathways Project develop the infrastructure needed to link the region’s employer base with schools, enabling work-based learning for more students and delivering on Linked Learning’s promise of equity, quality and rigor.

The Tulare County Office of Education, the Porterville Unified School District and INNOVATE Tulare Kings are working together to coordinate school districts, community colleges, nonprofit partners and employers in a research-proven approach to increase attendance, graduation rates and post-secondary degree completion.

Eleven districts are participating in the Tulare-Kings Pathways Project: Corcoran Unified, Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified, Dinuba Unified, Exeter Unified, Hanford Joint Union High School District, Lemoore Union High School, Lindsay Unified, Porterville Unified, Tulare Joint Union High School District, Visalia Unified, and Woodlake Unified.

By the 2017-18 school year, the partner districts expect to serve over 10,000 high school students and involve nearly 450 employer and community partners in the Tulare and Kings county area.

Linked Learning is a proven education approach that integrates rigorous academics with work-based learning opportunities that address the most challenging, but necessary, education reforms: Common Core State Standards, a-g college prep coursework, and 21st century skills. Research shows that Linked Learning students have higher graduation rates, higher test scores and are more likely to enroll in a postsecondary degree program than their peers at traditional high schools.