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Visalia Unified School District’s Linked Learning Academies

Jul 21, 2017 11:00AM ● By Ben Ralph

Learning Curve

August 2017
Story by Ben Ralph
Photos courtesy of VUSD Linked Learning Academies

Despite the valiant efforts of Schoolhouse Rock, The Count from Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and other noble educators from the television, sometimes learning just isn’t as fun as it should be.

When considering the value of education, perhaps ask yourself the simple question we’ve all heard before: What do you want to be when you grow up? Visalia Unified School District uses that very question as the basis of its Linked Learning Academies. 

As explained by Bill Davis, the director of Career Technical Education for Visalia Unified School District: “We have this expectation that you have to go to college. We’re hoping to flip this whole paradigm on its head: Let’s focus on a career.” The underlying principle is about motivation, and within the academies, motivation for educational excellence is fueled by exploration and application to a career. 

In line with this, the key to the program is Visalia Partners in Education, the partnership between the academies and local professionals. Starting simple, it has blossomed to more than half a million dollars’ worth of time and donations aimed at providing students in the academies with real-world exposure to multiple fields, be it internships, guest speakers, job shadowing or mentoring. This aspect of the program gives many students an edge in pursuit of their goals and allows them to garner experience in a real career setting.

An example of this, Davis shared, was a young student who thought she wanted to be a lawyer, but the program for law wasn’t available yet. She went into the engineering academy at Golden West High School instead. After multiple years in the engineering academy, she’s now applying to college with a focus in engineering. That’s the beauty of the programs: it’s not that she liked law any less, it’s just that she actually likes engineering, which she learned for free. She wants to be an engineer, not a “college student.” 

Ten academies across the district’s high schools range in focus from Architecture & Engineering (Redwood High School) to Business Finance (Golden West High School). A student interested in a particular academy then applies for admittance. Once accepted, the student is partnered with his or her academic year cohort, with whom they will spend most, if not all, of their class time for the next four years. 

Unique to the academies is that the coursework is tailored to relate to the given focus of a particular academy. Engineering students study engineering mathematics, whereas finance students may study math more related to economics. In the end, “these are high level kids doing high level work,” according to Davis, and all students in the academies participate in career partnerships throughout their education.

VUSD Linked Learning Academies:

District Office: (559) 730-7300 

VTECH: Ag Bioscience & TECH  

Redwood: Architecture & Engineering, Law & Justice  

Golden West: Business Finance, First Responders, Engineering & Ag Mfg  

Mt. Whitney: Computer Science, Health Sciences  

El Diamanté: Media Arts and STRONG (Sports Therapy Rehab, Orthopedics, Neuromuscular Gains)

For participating school districts visit