Alexis Jean Tarleton wants to be a fashion designer. Lauren Aleaja Bean wants to be a general surgeon.
Those may seem like distant dreams for the 14-year-old students at Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions High School. But this year, the small Sacramento school is showing students how to get it done.
The formula: teach students to create and nurture their own road maps for education, career and, ultimately, life.
The program, Get Focused Stay Focused, began in the fall for all 54 freshmen at Health Professions and all 70 at New Technology High School, funded in part by a state grant administered through the Los Rios Community College District. The students learn college and career planning early in high school, hone those strategies in later high school years and earn Sacramento City College credits for earning A or B grades.
Health Professions Principal Marla Clayton Johnson said the school is combining the new program with social and emotional learning. The resulting year-long Foundations for Success includes work-based learning, life skills and “all the things that high school students don’t get in core subject areas,” she said. The program will grow in scope each year until Get Focused Stay Focused exists at all grade levels.
In early March, Health Professions freshmen were well into social and emotional learning. But several told how Get Focused Stay Focused gave them new perspective.
Lauren said the program pushed her to think more seriously about her future. “I have a different mindset,” she said. “I’ve been really researching what I want to do and I am more engaged into my career.”
My sense as a teacher is there have been a lot of ‘aha’ moments in terms of budgets.
Health Professions teacher Jennifer Clemens
Alexis, the future fashion designer, said work on creating a budget opened her eyes to the cost of living and gave her an incentive to push her grades higher. “It really changed me,” she said.
She also learned to recognize the value of a backup plan. That meant researching jobs and making first, second and third job choices part of a 10-year plan that will be revised each year of high school.
Alexis was recently accepted into a six-week fashion and arts program at the Academy of Arts in San Francisco, thanks in part to a letter of recommendation from teacher Jennifer Clemens.
Jamisha Broomfield, another 14-year-old freshman at the school, said her three career choices involve the medical profession. Pediatrician is her preferred path, she said, since she likes working with children. Her fallback interests? Becoming a surgeon or, barring that, a general practitioner.
Health Professions and New Technology are designated as small schools, which means their enrollments stay below 500. Each has about 240 students. Each student must choose the campus through the district’s open enrollment process. The majority of students at each school come from economically disadvantaged families. And each integrates its respective field of study into core offerings.
At Health Professions, for example, the medical career theme extends to English and science classes that include medical English and medical science. Biology and chemistry have medical components. U.S. history classes explore medical history, and so on.
Clemens said students have been enthusiastic about the program. “The first part of the year, students learn who they are as a person, what do they value, what do they want in their lives, what kind of lifestyle and careers,” she said. Then based on those values, they explore costs of their lifestyle choices and career incomes.
“My sense as a teacher is there have been a lot of ‘aha’ moments in terms of budgets” and what lifestyle is possible on a $30,000 salary, Clemens said.
Santa Barbara area schools and Santa Barbara City College launched Get Focused Stay Focused in 2009 in partnership with the publisher Academic Innovations of Utah, said Diane Hollems, a co-founder of the program. More than 130 high schools in California use the program, as well as another 25 in Oregon, Kansas and Arizona.
In Sacramento County, six other high schools have employed Get Focused Stay Focused.
Folsom High School is in its first year. At Highlands High School in North Highlands, teachers use the Get Focused Stay Focused curriculum in the freshman skills class. In the northeast Sacramento County suburbs, Casa Roble, Mesa Verde and Mira Loma high schools use it. The program also operates at Cosumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove.
At New Technology, Principal Kenneth Durham Jr. said when he learned of the program and the partnership with Los Rios, he moved quickly to incorporate it for the fall 2015 semester. “We really think it’s important to have this course taught and offered in the fall so that on Day One of high school students are thinking about, ‘What is my purpose? Where am I trying to go?’ so we can help them get there,” he said.
Principals at other high schools show plenty of interest when he talks about it, he said.
“Anything we can do to shorten the path to a two- or four-year degree, we should be doing it,” Durham said. “We want to make sure that if a student wants to achieve a four-year degree that we’re helping them get there.”