Sequoia National Park is a destination location. Hundreds of thousands of John Muir admirers venture to Sequoia to see the trees named General Grant and General Sherman. They are magnificent. The General Sherman tree is the largest known living single-stem tree on earth. It is 275 feet high and 25 feet in diameter. The picture will give you some example of its mass. But if you really do venture to Sequoia, I would encourage you not to buzz right through Porterville—one of those great, central California communities that 60,000 people call home. In my mind, what’s taking place in the Porterville Unified School District is equally as impressive as the Sherman and Grant trees.
I had the pleasure of spending a day at Harmony Magnet High School in Porterville, and it was there that I got a chance to see the magic that happens when the idea of college and career readiness finds life and inspires young people. Harmony has both visual performing arts and engineering pathways, and the work they’re doing is impressive and inspirational. The staff is completely dedicated to ensuring that a rigorous curriculum, focused on the arts and engineering, happens each and every day. The work is terrific, and the evidence base I use are the students themselves.
I spent the morning with four tour guides. Fred and Ashlynn are juniors in the performing arts pathway, and Ray and Viviana are seniors in the engineering program. You light up when you listen to them. Their aspirations are as strong and vivid as the aspirations of any youth in a large urban setting—private, public, or charter public. These young people know what they want and are focused on outcomes that include four-year degrees from best-of-breed universities like Cal Tech, USC and UCLA. “Teachers here care about us, and even the hardest work is fun,” remarked Fred, right after he was volunteered to play a piece in his piano class.
Equally impressive is the way in which the chair of the pathways advisory program spoke of the strong connection between education and the economy: “We’re an agriculture community, but it’s not agriculture the way most people think of it. Those days of plow-sharing are over, and have given way to $10 million pieces of equipment that young people need math and communication skills to operate. We are convinced that pathway programs provide a brighter future for our businesses and the young people who love this area. Not everyone wants to come to Porterville, so our best bet is to captivate our students to see that a bright future and a family-sustaining income are possible right here in their hometown.”
My day in Porterville was heartfelt. If you’re ever on your way to Sequoia National Park, and want to be inspired by more than just the Grant and Sherman trees, give Superintendent John Snavely a call, and your visit to their pathways program will be a highlight of your central California journey. It was for me.
PS: While not a giant Sequoia, the balsa wood bookmark I received as a token of my visit (seen here) will be a concrete symbol for the inspiration I received.