Lake Washington School District Launches High School “Signature Programs”

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Thematic, interdisciplinary block courses use projects for “real world” learning

By 2014-15, all Lake Washington School District High Schools will offer “Signature Programs,” which are thematic, interdisciplinary three-period instructional blocks organized around career clusters and pathways. These courses combine rigorous academics and “real world” application of learning. They will engage students in problem-based learning and completion of industry-based projects. At the same time, students will earn academic credit in specified areas required for graduation.

For example, Juanita High School’s STEM Signature Program will explore global health through the lens of literature, body systems and disease detection and prevention. Students will earn credit for Anatomy and Physiology, Biotechnology and English. The course will involve laboratory investigations, problem solving and a variety of public health-related readings.

Dr. Traci Pierce, superintendent, links these programs to the district’s vision, Every Student Future Ready:  prepared for college, prepared for the global workplace, prepared for personal success.

“Every high school graduate should find viable ways of pursuing both a career and a meaningful post-secondary degree or credential,” said Dr. Pierce. “The concept of work-linked learning can be extraordinarily powerful in engaging students.”

Initial programs will focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) career pathways. Dr. Pierce cited the demand for workers trained in the STEM fields as one of the reasons for this approach.

These programs will be available in all district high schools to 11th and 12th grade students in the next two years. The first programs will launch in the 2013-14 school year at Redmond High School, Juanita High School, Emerson High School and the STEM School, in the following areas:

  • Emerson High School: Sustainability
  • Juanita High School: Global Health
  • Redmond High School: Global Health: Policies, Problems & Solutions
  • STEM: Environmental Engineering & Sustainable Design; Digital Media and Game Design; Forensics/Psychology

Programs will be launched in the 2014-15 school year at Eastlake High School, International Community School and Lake Washington High School in these areas:

  • Eastlake High School: Innovation by Design
  • International Community School: Grand Challenges of Engineering
  • Lake Washington High School: Engineering

Three teachers will team together to link the learning in their academic content areas and connect learning to the real world of work. Students will earn three credits in areas required for graduation, such as English, career/technical education and science. Teachers at district high schools have received training in problem-based learning as teams from each school prepare to offer these courses. Problem-based learning is a form of instruction that is student-centered, in which students learn about a subject through the experience of problem solving.

“These programs enable students to link current courses to post-secondary plans and potential career interest areas,” noted Dr. Pierce. “We will work with community partners to enable students to explore career options and get hands-on experience.”

Funding for launching the signature programs has been provided by the Lake Washington Schools Foundation, Microsoft and Waste Management. “We are grateful for the community support that will make these new programs available,” noted Dr. Pierce.