While we were in the Central Valley we went to a Linked Learning/NAF/Project Lead the Way school called Harmony Magnet Academy. Don Shalvey has been begging me to go to Lindsay and see a Linked Learning school for five years now. I can see him smiling.
Our gracious hosts Cindy Brown from Central Office and Jeff Brown, the principal, let us poke around for a few hours. Harmony sits adjacent to a traditional high school, Strathmore, where they share both athletes and athletic facilities. Porterville is where a good friend and mentor, John Porter, started the push towards work-based learning and career academies. He’d be proud that his legacy lives on. Harmony has a 100 percent college going culture unlike the high school at Lindsay which still has a diploma and a college track. Porterville has 12 “pathways” and there are still 40 percent of the district’s kids who are not in a pathway (we just didn’t meet any of those students but I wish we had!). Harmony has a slightly different population with 50 percent of the students qualifying for free/reduced lunch and over 60 percent of the population is Latino. The biggest contrast between the two high schools, though, was engagement. The joy factor. The kids and teachers at Harmony were super jazzed about learning. We visited the tail end of an aeronautics class and watched as students in robotics build and test whether or not their robots could travel a certain distance with its sensors (I just wished I saw more girls in the lab!). The teachers get two-week crash courses through Project Lead that way they keep their curriculum relevant and apply their traditional subject matter expertise (math, science, English) in new ways. Who wouldn’t want these opportunities to upskill? There were teaching fancy classes like civil engineering, biomedicine and stagecraft. But there were clear academics underneath these fancy titles with real world projects. We learned about how the whole community supports students and the role a business advisory council plays in evaluating students’ year-long projects and the internships that over 900 students in the district participate in before they graduate. The quality of the projects were impressive. I almost wanted to do a Vulcan mind meld of the two schools: self-management/goal orientation and high levels of interest, engagement with a college going culture. When was the last time you visited a high school that knocked all those factors out of the park? How powerful would that be?