Visalia Technical Early College High School
Promise of RelevanceApril 2015
By Jen May Pastores
Photos: Jacki Potorke
What motivates a high school student to succeed? This is a relevant question to anyone connected to education. For Victoria Porter, it’s about creating opportunities for students to make a meaningful connection with what they learn at school to something they can apply in their personal lives. “Students are much more motivated to succeed when they understand clearly why they are doing what they’re doing,” says Porter, principal at Visalia Technical Early College High School. “If you can get them in the right environment, you can help them to see their potential.”
Six years ago, Porter was a member of a charter school committee tasked to design a new kind of learning environment. Along with district, local industries and representatives from the College of the Sequoias, Porter recognized the need for a different way to engage students with a focus on college and career readiness. They envisioned an innovative high school that would prepare students for successful post high school transitions, and in 2010, they welcomed VTEC’s first class of students.
Set in the middle of a suburban, residential area is a 25-acre agricultural campus that once housed the College of Sequoias’ agriculture farm, but now serves as a unique classroom for freshmen through seniors at VTEC. With intimate class sizes and about 220 students, the school has a family-like setting for students, teachers and staff to truly connect and support each other. Their family pets are chickens, sheep, horses, cows and pigs, all cared for on campus by the school community.
Outside in a livestock shelter, a veterinary science class observes a pregnant pig laying on her side while Dr. Lindsey Eby, a local veterinarian, asks, “How long is gestation?” Together they answer, “Three months, three weeks, three days!” Dr. Eby proceeds to give the pig an ultrasound to diagnose how long until farrowing, when the pig gives birth. Dr. Eby is one of many partners in the community dedicated to supporting VTEC and students in exploring careers with industry-relevant training.
Surrounding the class buildings are gardens and greenhouses, each abundant with vegetables, plants and fruit. Alfalfa, used to feed the animals, is also grown on campus. “It’s a self-sustaining farm here,” says Porter. In a community service project, students are growing plants to repopulate rivers with Sequoia Riverlands Trust, an organization dedicated to strengthening natural and agricultural lands of the southern Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley. In an environmental class, math, biology and science are seamlessly blended in lessons of aquaponic systems. Students are engaged in inquiry-based projects that help them achieve complex cognitive tasks such as investigation, problem solving and decision making.
Porter explains, “When students are younger, they are often content doing something to please their parents or teachers. As they mature, they need to know why, for example, they are learning a particular concept in biology or math. That’s why we have created a hands-on, relevant, curricular pathway that motivates through student involvement in their own college and career plans.”
VTEC offers focused pathways in veterinary science, environmental horticulture, food science and agriculture systems technology, enabling students to learn about the commitment it takes to have a profession in one of those career fields. During their time at VTEC, students concurrently receive college credit from College of the Sequoias, further receiving support in their transition to college and the world of work. They can obtain career technical certification by the time they graduate from VTEC with their high school diploma. Upon starting at the school, students receive an individual career plan that helps with their development in their area of interest, as well as a way to determine in which cohort the student will be placed as he or she matriculates through VTEC and COS. “We want to point students in the right direction, so students can discover what they want to do,” says Porter. “We know that a real world, hands-on environment is much more motivating to a student than the traditional classroom, seated-in-rows type of environment.”
As an extension of VTEC’s commitment to supporting student success, they have established the “VTEC Promise,” in which any student from the high school taking COS credits will be supported financially as long as they attend there. This includes class fees and textbooks. The school’s parent group wants each student to have the opportunity to maximize their early college experience at no cost. In addition to providing ways to overcome financial obstacles, they hope to provide scholarships for seniors who wish to continue studying at COS to complete their associate’s degree or to continue in their career technical classes. With approximately 68% of VTEC students identifying as first-generation college students, the school is making a difference in helping students get a head start in postsecondary success. “That’s relevancy. It’s time to be more relevant to students,” says Porter.
Visalia Technical Early College High School • www.vusd.org/VTEC
2245 S. Linwood St., Visalia • (559) 622-3212
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