To the national debate about whether students should pursue career and technical education or college preparation, a California program wants to add an emphatic declaration: Yes.
The refusal to choose between one instructional emphasis or the other symbolizes the work being done to build career pathways in nine school districts as part of Linked Learning, an initiative cited as a national model of career and technical education.
One of the places the project is unfolding is in a cluster of high schools in a district that serves a predominantly Latino, low-income community here among the Central Valley’s olive and orange groves.
At one school, a half-dozen students huddle around big desktop computers. The complex formulas they’re calculating and programming into the computer will tell a robot how to restack blocks of blue and red cubes. When they give the robot the command, the job comes off perfectly. Barely old enough to drive, these students are learning to negotiate the real-world engineering that shapes manufacturing.
A few hallways away, teenagers master the high-tech tools of the performing arts world. Aspiring musicians sit at rows of electric pianos, listening through headsets to the music they create as it is automatically notated on computer screens. At another school, students juggle computers and soundboards to produce a morning broadcast.
When they’re not in classrooms, students from these schools are out in the community, working in local engineering companies, staging musicals with preschoolers, or helping design sound for a street concert.
The point, leaders of the work say, is to create a more relevant, engaging school experience for young people by blending the rigorous core academics they need for college with the career and technical education that prepares them for good jobs, and to do it in an applied, hands-on way that includes real-life work experience.