(One in a series of stories looking at NUSD college and career preparation.)
Think of it as a career pathway leading to college – or vice versa.
Here’s the bottom line: All 30 seniors who graduated last year from Leroy Greene Academy had completed a career pathway in either Visual Arts/Technology or Business/Entrepreneurship – and every single one of them had passed all academic requirements for UC and CSU, too.
Thirty-for-thirty – 100%.
LGA, which serves students from 6th grade through 12th grades, is the only district-operated charter and the only school to require students to complete a career pathway while earning their high school diploma. The idea is to prepare teens for college AND career.
LGA’s career pathway program is designed to help students become critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, capable researchers, and college-ready young adults familiar with graphic design and modern technology.
Andrea Rodriguez, LGA’s pathway director, said the goal is to develop skill sets that can be used in almost any 21st century career. If students wind up as artists or entrepreneurs, fine, but the ability to be creative, overcome obstacles, and react to real-world changes and challenges is universal.
“We’re teaching innovation,” Rodriguez said. “I think we’re preparing kids for the world of tomorrow. We always have to be forward thinkers – and in the world of art and business, it’s always about trying to solve the next problem or create something that can appeal to a larger community.”
Senior Kimberly Jackson Maxies said she’s learned a lot in the business pathway. “Critical thinking and learning to work with people and connect with people – I know that I’ll be able to use that in the real world,” she said.
Here’s how the program works at LGA:
· In the early grades, 6th through 8th, all LGA students take introductory courses in both business and art.
· In 9th grade, all students take a graphic design course, introducing them to web design, coding, and online software – such as Illustrator and Photoshop — useful for branding and marketing in art, business, and many other careers.
· By 10th grade, all LGA students are expected to choose either an arts or business pathway to focus on throughout high school. They combine that career training with Math, Science, English, Social Science, World Language, and other traditional college-prep classes.
Students who choose the art pathway study animation, technique, art history, commercial art, and other topics. Their art forms include painting, drawing, photography and digital art. They also focus on technology and software useful in creating, editing, and modifying digital art. By graduation, they complete an art portfolio that can be submitted to the College Board for Advanced Placement (AP) college credit.
Students who choose the business pathway study the history of entrepreneurship, lessons learned by business pioneers, and key elements of overcoming challenges and succeeding in business, including marketing, research, pricing, production, presentation, long-term plans, evaluating competition, and profit margins.
In the 12th grade, students in both pathways join forces, working in teams on a yearlong project requiring them to identify a problem and then solve it by developing, presenting, marketing, and pitching a business plan for a new product or service.
High-ranking projects square off in a contest in which they pitch their business plan to a judging panel of educators and community representatives. Student ideas last year included an automatic fishing reel to eliminate the struggle of bringing in a stubborn fish, and an online retail service to design, produce and sell custom costumes.
“We teach students to think outside the box,” Rodriguez said of LGA’s pathway program. “It teaches kids to look at real-world problems and solve them in a different way.”
Tiffanie Nguyen, 17, said the art pathway’s projects have brought students together for collaborative learning – and she appreciates and has benefited from that.
Todd Gomez, 17, said the business pathway has taught him to think like an entrepreneur in solving problems, planning, selling, and perseverance. “I think it’s a really healthy sort of mindset that I’ve come to realize I should take more seriously,” he said.
NUSD offers a variety of career pathways or courses enhancing student choice throughout the district, including Engineering, Health, Broadcast Media, Transportation and Culinary Arts & Hospitality. For more information, click here.