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California high schools could see an infusion of new programs that link academics with career exposure to provide students a richer learning experience. That's the goal of a competitive $250 million grant process Senate leader Darrell Steinberg is promoting to schools and businesses.

The Sacramento Democrat joined several local education and business leaders at Health Professions High School today to highlight a piece of the 2013-14 state budget that he hopes will give high school a boost of relevancy by connecting students to the world of work. Steinberg encouraged schools and community colleges to collaborate with employers in their region and apply together for grants to create more opportunities for applied learning.

"We want business, we want lead industries to step up and see this not just as a philanthropic add-on or something that would be nice to do for kids, but to see this opportunity as the beginning of a change in our American culture," Steinberg said. "For business, helping educate and train the next century work force is an indispensable part of the bottom line."

High schools could use the grants, for example, to hire someone to serve as an internship coordinator to match students with businesses, or to train teachers to teach academic subjects in a more hands-on way that shows how they relate to careers.

Educators bill the approach as "linked learning," and hold up Sacramento's Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions High School as an example. The school teaches a college-prep academic curriculum but blends it with preparation for careers in health care. During a tour, Steinberg visited an English class where students had read "The Hot Zone," a book about the Ebola virus, and were doing a project about its symptoms.

"Linked Learning students understand how their high school education relates to their next step and beyond," said Deborah Bettencourt, superintendent of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District.

Bettencourt was joined at today's event by Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond and Elk Grove Unified Superintendent Steven Ladd.

"Linked Learning answers the question we've all heard, and we have in fact ourselves asked, 'Why am I learning this?' Once students can answer that question for themselves they are inspired and self motivated and have higher aspirations," Bettencourt said.

School districts will be able to apply for a piece of the $250 million through the state Department of Education early next year.

Steinberg and three other state senators recently returned from a trip to Switzerland and Germany to study the way those countries teach high school. He said he was impressed with the Swiss model in which businesses take an active role in preparing students for the workplace, and government spending focuses less on remediation and more on providing a relevant education.

"As I head into my final year in the Legislature, this is is my top focus," Steinberg said. "I don't have the luxury of multi-year projects, two-year bills or do-overs any more. This is it. When it comes to making lasting change, in my view there is no more important challenge to tackle."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg talks with students at Health Professions High School in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall


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