The California Department of Education included Richmond schools in a new pilot program to enhance learning skills in a wide range of fields, such as engineering, arts and media, and biomedical and health sciences.
The state directed $7.5 million into 20 Linked Learning pilot programs across the state. The West Contra Costa Unified School District was selected to be one of those sites.
“I want to go to college and pursue a career in mechanical drafting,” said Alex Ortega, a senior at Richmond High. “I did two years in Linked Learning. I really enjoyed it and thought I might as well make this a career.”
ConnectEd, an organization helping school districts throughout California design and implement Linked Learning pathways, says the curriculum combines strong academics with real-world experience.
“Its about preparing students for college and career, both objectives not just one or the other, about ensuring every student (will) leave high school ready for further success in education and in real world job opportunities,” said Gary Hoachlander, president of ConnectEd.
At Richmond High the five industry-themed Linked Learning academies are law, health, engineering, multimedia communications, and creative and performing arts.
“Once students join the Engineering Academy their mind changes and they start to see different things that are probably new to them,” said Brandon Blanquel, a 17-year-old student at Richmond High. ”This academy really changes your thoughts about the future.”
Work-based learning, a key tenant of the Linked Learning curriculum, provides students with opportunities to interact with professional adults in their chosen field. Professionals provide mentoring and shadowing opportunities, assess work, and sometimes hire students for internships, Hoachlander said.
“I’ve been working with Junior Achievement from Chevron, doing job shadowing,” Richmond High’s Ortega said. ”We have to solve societal issues and incorporate engineering aspects into it.”
“Real engineers judge you on your presentation skills,” Blanquel added. ”They will judge how you stand, how you speak and how you present.”
Core academic subjects: English, math, science and social studies are still a priority, but the approach has been re-imagined with a focus on distinct industry themes and organized around a particular business sector, Hoachlander said.
“Students complete a multi-subject project called Ship Shape,” said Aurelio Garcia, the lead teacher of the Engineering Academy. “They have to build a boat out of aluminum foil and make sure it meets specifications and floats with a certain amount of mass, then in English they write a technical report about the boat, and in social studies they learn about the history of boats.”
At Richmond High, the Linked Learning Academies require students collaborate to be successful. Constantly working to build a sense of community amongst teachers and students where high expectations and a sense of ownership translate into an environment where everyone is motivated to learn, Garcia said.
“I want to be a nurse,” said Jennifer Ramirez, 17. “The Engineering Academy has helped me so much being able to interact with other people, and I’ve learned the tools and resources to really be creative.”