Career Pathway Learning Communities: Sanborn's Solution to Personalized Learning For Juniors and Seniors

Imagine what your high school experience would have been like if you were able to associate with other students who shared the same career interests as you did throughout your high school career. What would it have been like if you had the opportunity to engage in enrichment activities and programming that related to topics you might one day want to pursue? How much different would your high school experience have been if you had pursued an in-depth experience that related to your career interests? This experience could have been tied to an independent project, internship, action research experiment, or similar personalized experience of your choosing. If you are like me, then you feel this type of an opportunity may have helped you have a more enriching, relevant, and rigorous high school experience. This is exactly the direction Sanborn Regional High School is heading, and the school is already receiving local, state, and national attention for its efforts.

Over the last three years Sanborn Regional High School has taken some bold steps to redesign itself into small learning communities that work interdependently to achieve successful student performance for which we are collectively responsible and mutually accountable. This work started several years ago with the establishment of Professional Learning Communities for teachers. In the fall of 2011, the first student model emerged with the establishment of the highly successful Freshman Learning Community (FLC). The following year the school unveiled a similar model for sophomores. 

The freshman and sophomore models are based on the premise that student achievement and personalization greatly improves when you pair small groups of students with a group of teachers who meet regularly and work collaboratively to plan all aspects of curriculum, instruction, and assessment as a team. In the FLC, students are organized into two teams of 90-100 students and five teachers who represent all core academic areas. The focus of the FLC is on preparing freshmen for academic and personal success through encouragement, support, and self-advocacy.  Teachers work closely with both Sanborn Regional Middle School and the Ellis School to ensure that as students make the transition from 8th to 9th grade it is smooth and seamless.

In the sophomore year, students are organized into three teams of 60-65 students and three teachers (representing Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies). There, teachers strive to collaborate to make student learning the focus by communicating effectively, intervening when necessary, extending when possible, and reflecting on their teaching practices often.

Both the freshman and sophomore models are already showing early signs of success both academically and in positively impacting our school’s climate and culture. NWEA scores are showing growth, particularly in the more established freshman model. The school has also seen a significant decrease in both course failures and discipline referrals. Many are wondering how the ideals and philosophies of the small learning community model will be extended to junior and senior year. The answer will be to develop career pathway learning communities that will allow students to explore, enrich, and immerse themselves in courses and personalized opportunities that allow them to study in-depth a career pathway of interest to them.

Beginning as early as next year, as preparation for a post-secondary career or college education, all students in grades 11 and 12 have the option to align themselves with one of four career pathway learning communities. A description of each pathway is below:

SRHS Career Pathway
Arts, Communication, & the Humanities
Careers in this path are related to communication, government and civics, the humanities, and/or performing, visual, literary, and media arts. These include careers in the arts, audio / visual technology, communication, government and public administration, and architecture.
Business & Manufacturing
Careers in this path are related to the business environment, manufacturing, and technology. These include careers in business management and administration, construction, finance, information technology, manufacturing, marketing, sales, service, transportation, distribution, and logistics.
Human Services
Careers in this path are related to working with children and adults. These include careers in education & training, hospitality and tourism, human services, and public safety.
Science & Health, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics
Careers in this path are related to technologies necessary to research, design, develop, and maintain physical systems (both mechanical and natural). These include careers in agriculture, food and natural resources, health sciences, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Participation in a career pathway learning community will be able to be done at varying degrees of rigor and intensity depending on the individual needs of each student. Students in grades 9 and 10 will not formally join a career pathway learning community. Instead, they will be exposed to a variety of college and career exploration activities and surveys as part of their advisory program in their freshman and sophomore learning communities. Students will be encouraged to take advantage of the two elective course options in grade 9 and three in grade 10 as a way to learn more about a topic of interest. Additionally, students will be encouraged to take advantage of extended learning opportunities, extra-curricular clubs, and/or enrichment opportunities as another way to begin to explore pathway options.

Career Pathways at an Introductory Level

Beginning in grade 11, based on career interest surveys that are completed in grade 10, students will be assigned to an advisory in one of the four career pathways with other grade 11 and 12 students who share that same pathway interest. During advisory, students will have the opportunity to participate in activities and enrichment programs that are specific to their career pathway of choice.

Career Pathways at an Intermediate Level

In addition to being a part of a career pathway, advisory students who are looking for a more rigorous career pathway experience will be able to follow a recommended program of study that will be made available to them in the 2014-2015 Program of Studies.

Career Pathways at an Advanced Level

In addition to participation in a career pathway advisory and completion of the recommended coursework, students who wish to graduate with an endorsement on their diploma from their pathway will also complete a senior capstone experience. Organized and showcased by a digital portfolio that will be compiled over a two year period, the capstone experience will allow students to pursue an independent project, internship, action research experiment, or similar personalized experience of their choosing. Students who complete the advanced level will be recognized at graduation and receive a distinction on their diploma and transcript indicating this honor. In addition, unique scholarships, employment opportunities, and college opportunities may be made available to students based on their successful completion of their pathway.

Career Pathway Learning Community Implementation Timeline

Unlike the freshman and sophomore small learning community models, which were rolled out over the course of one year, the career pathway model will be rolled out over a three year window. Officially, the first class that will be able to experience all aspects of the model will be the current freshmen, the Class of 2016. Here is a summary of what the implementation will look like:

2013-2014 School Year:  All junior and senior advisories will be reorganized and regrouped by pathway. Students are in the process of completing career interest surveys now with Guidance to help them decide which pathway may be of interest to them.

2014-2015 School Year:  Juniors would have the ability to begin a capstone project that is connected to a career pathway area of interest.

2015-2016 School Year:  Seniors who successfully complete their capstone project would receive an endorsement/distinction on their diploma recognizing this achievement in their career pathway learning community.

Looking Ahead

The objective of the career pathway learning community model will be to help better prepare all Sanborn students for the challenges that lie ahead in college and careers. We will aim to create highly effective critical thinkers and problem solvers who are ready to respond to our society’s needs. It is an exciting time to be a Sanborn student.


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