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Growing Community Educators: Linked Learning Education Pathways Prepare the Next Generation of Teachers

February 16, 2022 | Ava Marinelli

A diverse, well-prepared teaching workforce with close ties to their community is critical to the success of young people, ensuring they graduate prepared for lifelong success. As the country faces growing challenges in the field of education, with the workforce remaining less diverse than the students it serves, educators reporting record levels of stress, and school staffing shortages driven by COVID-19, it is essential that communities leverage high-impact solutions to grow and expand their teacher workforce. Across California, districts are meeting this moment head-on, committing resources to attract new K-12 teachers and early childhood educators to the profession as early as high school.

By using the Linked Learning approach, high schools are preparing young people to become educators in their communities. The Linked Learning Alliance sat down with two Linked Learning pathways to learn more about how they are using high-quality college and career education to prepare the next generation of teachers in their community.

Community Health and Education Pathway, Skyline High School, Oakland Unified School District
Skyline High School serves Oakland’s young people with a wall-to-wall pathway approach. Every student upon entering tenth grade enters an industry-focused pathway where educators combine rigorous academics with rich, hands-on career learning. “The Community Health and Education Pathway is very popular,” pathway coach Shanti Elliott shared. “Students are very interested in it, not only because of career opportunities, but this pathway has a reputation for having dynamic teachers who really care about the students.” Students are able to start exploring career opportunities in the health and education fields right away through work-based learning opportunities. The Community Health and Education Pathway (CHED), led by pathway director Monica Vu, partners with local elementary schools, where students apply the pedagogy knowledge they develop in their classrooms to lessons they research, prepare, and teach to younger students. “It's just beautiful to see the students really shine with younger students, just really valuing that space and stepping forward and to see that they're being active and activated,” Shanti reflects.

Career-technical education (CTE) teacher Eric Espinosa sees CHED as an opportunity to authentically diversify Oakland’s teaching workforce. “Historically, CTE had primarily been used to push folks of color toward lower skilled, lower paid jobs as well. And with the way we do this now, we’re preparing young people for a stable job in the education field. And the education field, despite the number of teachers of color on our campus is largely across the United States, it is still largely white. Encouraging our student population to go for careers in education could be transformative in my opinion.”

While the focus of teacher preparation is often on classroom skills, we know educators also serve as advocates for their students, community, and the education field. CHED ensures that young people are equipped with these advocacy skills through their senior capstone project. A senior capstone is a form of performance assessment, where students demonstrate a culmination of knowledge, skills, and reflections through a long-term research project. This year, students are researching the disproportionate A-G credit completion rates in Oakland Unified School District, proposing solutions, and advocating for their plans to the Oakland Unified School Board. “The students will be a legitimate consultancy actor,” Eric explained. “And the client is actually the chairman of the Oakland Unified School Board.”

CHED students take the academic and industry knowledge, skills, and mindsets they learn in the pathway into their careers – sometimes right back at Skyline High. “We currently have two CHED graduates teaching at our school site, which is pretty dope,” Shanti said. While the pathway does not have an exact number of graduates who go on to pursue a career in education, both Shanti and Eric shared that many students have expressed interest in continuing on in the field. “We hope that they stick to it,” Shanti shared.

Teaching Career Academy, Hollywood Senior High School, Los Angeles Unified School District
At Hollywood Senior High School, students in the Teaching Career Academy, a Linked Learning pathway, are prepared not only for careers in the classroom, but for opportunities in childhood development, education technology, and play-based education. Through partnerships with local elementary schools, the Jim Henson Company, Amplify, and others, “students’ ideas of what careers are possible within the education field are expanded and enlightened. They keep the focus on child development, child play, child stories, but these partners help them see that in the field of education there are other opportunities out there,” explained pathway lead Kelly Bender. Kelly went on to share that as the pathway that serves the highest number of students with disabilities and English learners at Hollywood Senior High School, it was critical to the pathway team that they create a pathway that reflected the community and the skills students already possessed: “The Teaching Career Academy was created with a focus on early childhood education and development, understanding who our students were and that many of them were caregivers in their own families for younger brothers, sisters, cousins. And that there’s a certain already built-in knowledge base and understanding around child development and childcare, and also because so many of our students are so family- oriented.”

Building on the pathway’s founding mission to create a space that honored the community’s values and skills, the Teaching Career Academy provides opportunities for students to leave the pathway equipped to enter the workforce right away if they choose. Through a dual enrollment program with a local community college, students can apply for an associate teacher credential in child development when they turn 18. This credential allows students to begin teaching work in a childcare facility, getting real world work experience that prepares them for the next step in their journey in the education field. These early college credits and industry credentials save young people both time and money if they choose to pursue additional higher education.

Kelly shared that many of the Teaching Career Academy students do go on to pursue higher education, and a career in the education field. “We have three former Teaching Career Academy students who graduated in child development and are now part of our advisory board and are currently either actively pursuing graduate work in the field or are working in classrooms,” she said.

Building on the Momentum
Community Health and Education Pathway and Teaching Career Academy provide a roadmap for expanding a diverse, community-centered teaching workforce. As a scalable, sustainable approach to building a community-grown, highly skilled teacher workforce, policymakers must invest in strategies like Linked Learning and teacher pathways in high school to expand access to more young people and communities. “Nothing pays dividends like education investment does. Every economist will tell you that,” Skyline High School CTE teacher Eric Espinosa reflected. “It's going to benefit the community regardless of whether or not that particular student ends up pursuing education.” Teaching Career Academy pathway lead Kelly Bender echoed Eric’s thoughts: “There needs to be more funding for programs like Linked Learning that give students real world opportunities. Educators need funding to not only keep pathways running, but keep them thriving and keep them moving.”