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Keep Us Linked: Student-Led Legislative Briefing Reflections

January 29, 2021 | LoMo Phillips

Policymakers and educators from across California came together on January 28th to listen to high school seniors about their Linked Learning experience during COVID-19. Moderated by Anne Stanton, the discussion covered a range of topics from students’ personal passions and post-high school plans to how they’ve dealt with the challenges of a virtual learning environment, all tied together around the theme of keeping young people connected to their purpose and community during the pandemic. Students represented a range of school districts, from smaller rural areas to larger, urban schools, making for a diverse conversation with a wide breadth of Linked Learning experiences.

Linked Learning from the Student Perspective

All four student panelists started the discussion by sharing what going through a Linked Learning pathway has been like. Each touched on different aspects of the approach and how it shaped their overall high school experience, as well as how it influenced their passions and post-high school plans. Alivia Ross, a senior from the Academy of Law and Justice Pathway at Cabrillo High School in Long Beach USD, highlighted how unique and fun her experience in Linked Learning has been. Through her pathway, she’s “really fallen in love with the law field” and been able to combine that with her passion for technology through integrated studies like her Introduction to Law course and her Mock Trial course.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Students

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has challenged students in a variety of different ways. Marcel Green, senior at the Media Academy at Fremont High School in Oakland USD, spoke to the struggle of juggling multiple, changing schedules last March: “In school, I was working and I had an internship, but once the pandemic started, my internship was cut short...so I had to adjust my work schedule and my school schedule.” As daunting as the future may seem, the student panelists remained optimistic about the coming months, especially as they begin to transition into the next phase of their life after high school.

Of particular note, Aaron Morales, senior at the Academy of Health Sciences at Porterville High School in Porterville USD, emphasized that while he was optimistic about the future, he still had major concerns about the impact the pandemic has had on younger students and their mental health. Aaron and a peer of his were so concerned about their classmates’ mental wellbeing that they organized a conference earlier this month to address these issues and their effects head on. Though he is co-leading the initiative, he credited the support of the teachers, faculty, and Academy at his school who, “...had our backs and now we’re full steam ahead.”

Engagement with Industry and Education Partners

Adding further context to the conversation were Matin Abdul-Qawi, Superintendent of the High School Network at Oakland Unified School District, and Becca Sanchez, Senior Consultant at CGI that works with STEM Academy at Boyle Heights. When asked about why Oakland Unified has adopted wall-to-wall Linked Learning pathways, Matin spoke to how students engaged in pathways are exposed to more valuable and richer learning experiences compared to those who were not. He further responded, “Linked Learning Academies pathways create an opportunity for every student to be seen. What we do is, we create these smaller learning communities, where a small group of students support and hold a small group of students... we create structures, we create systems that make it possible for every student to be seen, to be heard and to be cared for.”

Becca noted that although CGI’s partnership with STEM Academy at Boyle Heights had to transition to a virtual setting, they’ve still been able to engage meaningfully with students and that, “I think the more exposure we can provide, and the easier we can make it for [the students], the more we can set them up for success to end up doing what they love.”

Final Thoughts

One of the most compelling parts of the conversation revolved around the question, “If you could emphasize one thing today for all the policymakers here that you think education could be improved in California by doing and now and post COVID, what would you say to them?” Almost all of the students stressed the importance of staying connected to their teachers and keeping motivated. Paul Carecllar, senior at the School of Business and Tourism at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex in Los Angeles USD, relayed that the focus should be on students’ motivation, that, “It would really make a difference if someone's there to motivate them to tell them that they've done a good job. And that they can go further, they could break barriers, break stigmas, and potentially reach the dreams that they've always had.” It’s clear that during these unprecedented times, we must support and empower students more than ever before.

We look forward to continuing the conversation with students on these issues and others in the future. You can listen to the entire conversation here.