January 14, 2013
By Lisa Hewitt
“What kids need in college, to get into college, and to get through college without remediation is pretty much all the same skills that you need in a career. You need to be able to collaborate, you need to be able to synthesize your own learning, you need to be creative, and show initiative. You need to have 21st century skills. What employers, industry sectors are telling us is, ‘We’re not really concerned about the technical skills that a student comes out of high school with.’ What they really want us to teach kids is how to learn, how to work, how to be persistent, how to show initiative, how to be a good person who is contributing to a company, a community, and a classroom. Those are universal skills.”–Susan Benz
The College and Career Readiness Office of Oakland Unified School District’s Linked Learning model is an innovative approach to education, comprised of four aspects of education, targeted to prepare high school students for college and the world of work. They can explore fields such as healthcare, engineering, as well as arts and media, while each student follows a chosen pathway through their time in high school. The pathways consists of four core components, an academic module, (all students must take the necessary course load to make them eligible to attend a CSU or UC) a technical component or vocational training, worked based learning (internship, externship, or apprenticeship) and as well as social and emotional supports, that can consist of intervention for struggling students through counseling or tutoring.
Gretchen Livesey, the Director of the College and Career Readiness Office and Susan Benz, the Coordinator of Career Readiness, want to reimagine how students experience high school. They realize school can seem boring and pointless to many teenagers, so their goal is to make the high school experience feel relevant. Livesey explains the purpose of the pathway model,
“It’s all right in 8th grade that you don’t know exactly what you want to do. We always say, ‘You’re not deciding the rest of your life today’. People often go through college and have a variety of careers. But hopefully something sparks your interest. Maybe you have a grandparent who is in and out of the hospital with diabetes and you have an interest in figuring out what that’s all about so you choose a health pathway…You’ve always been artistic so you gravitate to the performing arts. What we’re hoping is that when you’re able to express that passion in a series of courses that integrate both [academics and your passion] that you’ll be more successful through high school.”
Through the pathway model, the goal is to make learning more concrete. In order to expose students to life outside the classroom, the College and Career Readiness Office works with outside partners to bring in guest speakers from businesses and organizations, take students on tours of operating businesses in order to help them understand what career opportunities are available. Benz continues, “It’s really going out and finding partners and saying, ‘Will you please take part in the education of Oakland’s children? Will you please step up and get your needs met for an educated, ready to work workforce and help our teachers and help our kids.’ And honestly, Oakland has been more than willing and generous, it’s a good time to be in Oakland because industry, businesses, local businesses [say] ‘yeah, we’ll do it. We’ll do whatever we can’.” From big corporations like AT&T and Clorox, government agencies like Caltrans, to entrepreneurs and small business owners such as filmmakers and designers, the opportunities to meet with professionals in different industries are vast. Benz explains, “If you can get those kids outside of class or if you can get the world to come into a class and make that learning really tangible, that does more or as much as anything else you can do to keep a kid in school, to keep them interested, and to keep them coming back. Oakland has a really hard time doing that,” but with work based learning opportunities increasing, OUSD’s graduation rates rising, and the drop out rate falling, the district has made some significant gains.
If you’re interested in getting involved as a community partner please visit linkedlearningousd.org.