Hoping to encourage more kids to graduate high school and pursue college, Oakland Unified School District announced Wednesday an expanded program of career internships for high schoolers and enlisted the help of the Peralta Community College District and the City of Oakland.

The three institutions agreed to make “Linked Learning” opportunities possible for all high school seniors with the hope that as many as 80 percent of them will participate. However, officials did not commit any additional funding to the effort.

Linked learning is one of the new reform efforts in education and is rising in popularity nationwide. It combines rigorous academic curricula with internships in workplaces so that students experience how their studies might have practical value. Currently about half of OUSD high school students are offered linked learning in such locations as hospitals, a TV studio, architectural firms, computer firms and city agencies.

The approach seems to work.

“I used to think college was not for me,” said recent UC Berkeley graduate Elizabeth Beltran who also graduated from Life Academy High School in Oakland and its Linked Learning program. She said in her first two years of high school she didn’t much “care about studying” and put in minimum effort. Then, she enrolled in a linked learning internship at Alta Bates, “And then I realized I was capable of being a professional.”

Beltran said “was a big switch” for her because she and many of her first generation Mexican American friends had not perceived their future as involving college and professions.

“All of us had in our minds that because of our socioeconomic status, that our parents couldn’t afford college, so we didn’t even entertain the thought of going to college,” she said. Then her mentors through the internship at Alta Bates Medical Center encouraged her to apply to college.

Then she met adults who encouraged her to apply to college and helped her with the process and high achieving professionals “who looked like me.”

Joining OUSD Superintendent Gary Yee, Mayor Jean Quan and Peralta Colleges Vice Chancellor Dr. Michael Orkin to talk about the expansion, Beltran said she is now back at Life Academy as a coach in the linked learning. She said they key aspect is “it changes students’ perception of themselves.” she said.

Currently 42 percent of all 10th, 11th and 12th graders in OUSD high school students are enrolled in linked learning “pathways” programs. Expanding Linked Learning opportunities is part of the district’s Strategic Plan for preparing all students “for college and career readiness.” They want in particular to enlist more African American students in pathways and Linked Learning internships.

OUSD officials said that in last year’s senior class, 82 percent of those who were enrolled in pathways linked learning internships graduated, while 54 percent of their peers not in a pathway program graduated.

Eddie Moore attends OUSD’s Coliseum College Preparatory Academy enrolled in a linked learning program called BUILD that is about entrepreneurship and links students with businesses.

“Before BUILD i was on my way to being a drop out,” he said. Then the linked learning, “put me back on the track towards college.”
Most important, he said echoing Beltran, was it changed his perception of his future.

“I realized I didn’t want the world to see me as another African American male without a future.”

Graduation rates are improving among OUSD students as a whole, with with 62.6 of seniors in 2012 graduating, up from 60 percent in 2011. The biggest games were among African American males, Latina females and English Language Learners.

However, officials at Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting noted there’s a big disparity in success at Oakland’s large high schools and three high schools in its poorest neighborhoods, the schools it calls its “priority high schools:” McClymonds High School in West Oakland and Castlemont and Fremont High Schools in East Oakland.

While graduation rates are up at McClymonds, Castlemont and Fremont, and among all ethnic groups, still only 49 percent of African American students and only 54 percent of Latino students at those schools graduated last year.

At yesterday’s gathering, a parent of a Fremont High School student begged the officials to make resources available to Fremont students.

Parent Maria Zaragoza chastised the officials for not offering Linked Learning at all the schools. “My student is not having access to quality education” she said through a translator. “I invite each of you who have power and responsibilities over our children in Oakland to look at it not from behind the desk, I invite you to put resources towards all students so all have a chance to lead useful successful lives.

Superintendent Yee took the microphone and said to Ms. Zaragoza that he accepts the challenge.

OUSD is working with the Peralta Community Colleges to make “pathways” programs with various high schools. In addition to Life Academy which works with Merritt College; Skyline High School offers Performing Arts Pathway and a Computer Academy with Berkeley City College and Oakland Technical High School has several career pathway programs.

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