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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Making a Connection: A Cluster Curriculum

A school administration in Oregon puts the occupational-cluster program to work -- and sees positive results.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team
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In 1990, a team of parents, educators, and business people helped Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon, conduct a study and discovered what many students had long suspected: the school's academic program suffered from a lack of connection to students' lives and the demands of work. In response, the school launched Roosevelt Renaissance 2000. This school-improvement effort centers on occupational-cluster programs that help all 1,250 Roosevelt students, including those bound for college, understand the connection between school and their future careers.

Roosevelt has been reorganized into six career paths: arts and communications, business and management, manufacturing and engineering technology, health services, human services, and natural resource systems. Ninth graders explore each path through a required course, Freshman Survey, which includes job shadowing (students follow a worker to see how she does her job) and class projects based on career skills. In the spring of ninth grade, students choose a career path for deeper exploration. In eleventh and twelfth grades, students take part in supervised work experiences with local employers.

An advisory group of local businesses helps with job placements, provides business-related materials, and helps match the curriculum to the demands of work. Janet Warrington, coordinator of the program, reports that "the experience opens students' minds to thinking about the world of work -- both the possibilities and the requirements." As a result, students are seeing the need for science and math, and enrollments in physics and chemistry have gone up. The school is exploring the possibility of offering a certificate of mastery to students who demonstrate acceptable levels of proficiency in reading, writing, and math. From all accounts, it seems that Renaissance 2000 may be living up to its name: student morale has improved and more students are staying in school.

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