Linked Learning crafts new pathways for college and career

Educators from eight HISD high schools — Chavez, Eastwood Academy, Furr, Lee, Milby, Reagan, Sterling, and Westside — are spending their summer designing industry-themed programs of study intended to make learning exciting, challenging and relevant to real-world experiences. The program, known as Linked Learning, will help students build a strong foundation that leads to fulfilling and successful college and career experiences.

“It’s amazing. It’s awesome,” said Linked Learning superintendent Adam Stephens.

Linked Learning pathways differ from Texas House Bill 5’s mandated pathways. Students in specific Linked Learning pathways remain together through each grade level, taking classes as a group or “cohort” with the same teachers. Students in the same pathway share teachers, classes and resources. Linked Learning pathways are also required to offer all students within those pathways opportunities for dual-credit and internships during their time in school.

Although Linked Learning pathways are tied to high school, preparation for the approach starts much earlier. Elementary and middle school leaders are in talks with their feeder pattern high schools to align learning experiences at earlier grade levels with the pathways that are offered on the secondary level.

So how does the Linked Learning approach work at each grade level?

At the elementary level, students learn about work,  developing a strong foundation in the four core areas while achieving an awareness of college and career possibilities. Students take field trips, are involved in college awareness activities, and hear presentations regarding specific careers.

At the middle school level, students learn about interests. Education goes beyond awareness to exploration, through research of possible high schools and pathways. Students get a sense of their own personal interests and how they align with future careers.

By high school, students learn through work by placing an emphasis on instruction that is personalized to their specific chosen pathway. Thanks to robust business partnerships, students have opportunities to work in the field related to their pathway – a method called work-based learning.

HISD will implement the Linked Learning approach within the next four years, with training for the first eight schools continuing through the summer of 2014. Funding in part comes from a five-year $30 million federal Race to the Top grant that was awarded in December 2013.

“It’s exciting what the next five to six years are going to mean for our kids,” Stephens said. “Our kids are going to be able to stand a little bit taller.”