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Can Linked Learning Work in Rural School Districts? Posted on April 25, 2018 at 10:21pm by Gary Hoachlander

Friends,
 
Parents, teachers, community members and anyone in the Linked Learning field have all seen the transformative effect that Linked Learning has on students, especially in some of the biggest, most challenging school districts across the country. We know that when students love what they’re learning, they work harder, dream bigger, and learn more. As Linked Learning continues to grow and reach even more students, how can we ensure the same success in small, more isolated districts?
 
One of the major challenges in making Linked Learning Pathways accessible to all students is adapting the approach to small geographically isolated high schools, particularly in rural areas. Typically, rural high schools enroll fewer than 600 students, and sometimes fewer than 200, making it difficult to offer more than one or two pathway themes. 
 
Additionally, local economies tend to be less diverse than those in urban areas, with fewer employers and fewer fully functioning industry sectors. So providing students with rich workbased learning experiences, not an easy task in more urban settings, is made even more difficult.
 
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit The Wonderful College Prep Academy in Delano, a small community in the heart of California’s Central Valley. There the Wonderful Company has built a state-of-the-art K-12 campus, with an innovative “early college” Agricultural Prep Pathway, and also is helping to implement the same Ag Prep pathway in high schools in six other surrounding small rural communities.
 
At Wonderful College Prep, about half of the high school’s 650 students enroll in the Ag Prep program and commit to a four-year program of study that includes not only the full complement of “a to g” academic courses and a cluster of career and technical courses, but also related college courses that will enable them to graduate from high school with an Associate Degree in either Agricultural Business, Plant Science, or Agricultural Mechanics. To complete this degree by the end of their senior year in high school, students commit to taking college classes during their summers, as well as during the normal academic year.
 
The results are impressive. At all seven high schools, from 67 to 94 percent of students are on track to complete the minimum a to g requirements with a grade of C or better, up from 2 to 64 percent five years ago. At Wonderful College Prep, 75 percent of the starting 9th grade cohort have earned an Associate Degree, and of those, 80 percent have gone on to four-year colleges. 
 
These findings turn out to be as good or better to what we’ve seen in urban districts, where Linked Learning students are earning more credits and graduating at higher rates than peers in traditional high school programs. Linked Learning was never meant to be an out-of-the box
solution, ready to be applied in exactly the same way across every district. Rather, it’s an approach based on a set of core principles and values, including a commitment to ensuring that every student, especially those furthest from opportunity, has the chance to succeed. School districts and the communities they serve also have a voice in co-creating that vision.
 
It’s not easy to get to Delano for an on-site visit, but you can learn more by going to http://www.wonderfulcollegeprepacademy.org. It is indeed a wonderful thing happening in the Central Valley!

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