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  • Visalia Times-Delta | Tulare Advance Register

    Mt. Whitney High School Linked Learning students score gold

    By Paul Hurley,


    When she was 6 years old, Lily Saelee's grandfather died from cancer.

    Ever since, Lily has been pursuing her aspiration of a career in health care, and specifically as a cancer care specialist.

    "My mom actually encouraged me, because she said that cancer runs in our family," Lily says, "and if I learned about it, I could help them."

    Lily is now 15, and a long way from realizing her dream of becoming an oncologist. But as a sophomore at the Academy of Health Science at Mt. Whitney High School's Linked Learning  pathway, she is on her way.

    "I plan to graduate [from Mt. Whitney] early and go on to an Ivy League school, or a UC," Lily says of her plans, "then to Stanford Medical School and major in biology or chemistry to study to be an oncologist and then complete my residence as a radiation specialist."

    Don't doubt her.

    Lily's confidence is born of the training she is receiving in the Academy of Health Sciences, one of nine pathways at Whitney. About two dozen students in that specific Academy are receiving similar training, a combination of a rigorous academic regimen and practical experience at businesses and institutions in the community.

    Each of Visalia Unified School District's high schools has Linked Learning pathways in different disciplines: architecture and engineering, business finance, computer science, first responders, health sciences, law and justice, media arts, and sports medicine.

    VUSD learned last month that Mt. Whitney's Academy Of Health Sciences was recognized with a prestigious Gold Certification by the Linked Learning Alliance.

    According to the Alliance website; "Gold certification represents the highest quality standard for Linked Learning pathways and brings valued public recognition of the exemplary work being done by Linked Learning pathway staff, students, and partners."

    There are 27 Gold Linked Learning pathways in California, out of 225. Mt. Whitney's Gold certification is the first for VUSD. The district has also achieved other Linked Learning honors, including two Silver Certifications at Mt. Whitney in engineering and business science.

    “We are so proud of the Academy of Health Sciences for achieving the highest level of certification,” said Superintendent Kirk Shrum in a statement. “We work in collaboration with several business and community partners to integrate academic preparation with rigorous real-world training to ensure students are ready for college and career.”

    Hands-on learning

    Lily Saelee's experience in the Academy is typical of many of her fellow students. She met the criteria for admission to the Academy, where her coursework was tailored to her education and career plans.

    All the Academy students complete courses to satisfy the A through G curriculum requirements for admission to the University of  California system as well as College Technical Education pathways.

    Lily started as a freshman taking principles of environmental sciences. Her parents are Kao and Khae Saelee. This semester she is studying physiology and anatomy and expects to take biomedicine and biotechnology next year.

    Last summer she volunteered at Kaweah Health on the cancer floor. She helped organize paperwork and maintain the work space. She observed equipment such as radiology machines. And she talked with nurses, doctors, pharmacists and patients' families.

    "It was a pretty good experience, learning first-hand about what I want to do with my life," she says.

    Years hence, when Lily has completed her education and training, she intends to return to this area to practice as a radiation specialist.

    "I don't want to be very far from my family, and I want to help them, especially cancer patients, because I don't want them to go through that."

    Not all Academy of Health Sciences students aspire to become doctors. The Academy trains them for a variety of jobs in health care, especially in nursing and related support services. Some of them don't require a four-year college degree.

    Preparing students for the real world

    Stephanie Rangel, 16, is in 11th grade, studying many of the same subjects as Lily. She sees her career path differently.

    She is studying and preparing for a career as a sonographer, a specialist in electronic diagnosis. Her experience at Kaweah Health last summer was as a volunteer in the labor and delivery unit at Kaweah Health.

    "It was pretty cool. I was exposed to new people," Stephanie says. "They told me their stories. It exposed me to a lot of experiences. And it was a great experience working with the doctors as well."

    Stephanie, whose parents are Evelyn Bautista and Jesus Rangel, is undecided about her specific career, but she wants to pursue a path that certifies her as a sonographer, which is an ultrasound technician. She doesn't necessarily need an advanced degree for that work.

    "After high school, I would probably enroll in a tech trade school," she says, "and in 12 months I could be certified as a sonographer."

    Erandy Molina, 17, an 11th grader, whose parents are Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez and Evencio Molina, has had a similar experience as Stephanie. She aspires to enter a program in a trade school to become an ultrasound technician. She has taken the same courses and had an internship last summer at Kaweh Health.

    "They give you a chance to do an internship wherever you want. I did an internship in the labor and delivery unit at Kaweah Health," she says. "You get to communicate with nurses and interact with the patients. Your knowledge expands by the stuff you learn as a volunteer. You learn a lot."

    Part of the training in the Academy is to acquaint students with different careers, the training they need, job availability and potential salary.

    In freshman year, their culminating assignment is to create a brochure that describes the training and requirements needed to achieve a specific career goal, including the colleges that offer degrees in the field, job opportunities, and the expected salary when they are hired.

    Visalia Unified Public Information Officer Cristina Gutierrez offered this elaboration:

    "Linked Alliance Students complete all the course work that will get them into a four-year, if they want to go that route, but also give them the experience that allows them to go into a trade school or straight into the workforce."

    Gutierrez pointed out that some high school programs focus strictly on trade schools, whereas the Linked Learning Alliance programs offer training in both trade and technical programs, but also A through G requirements for four-year universities.

    Putting your skills to the test

    Hunter Lemoine intends to pursue his dreams into a four-year university and beyond.

    Hunter, 15, son of Eric and Amanda Lemoine, and a sophomore, intends to attend Fresno State and then go on to a medical school. Hunter says he has enjoyed his experience as an Academy student and enjoys his course load of anatomy, physiology and biotech.

    "Not only are they fun to be in, but they really do teach you about the medical field, especially principles of the human body."

    He also appreciates the courses that provide information on the different health fields where work is needed.

    "It really helps you learn how to apply for those jobs with the skills you have, and not only that, but it helps you focus on what the possibilities are."

    Hunter wasn't old enough to become an intern at Kaweah Health last summer, but he volunteered as an orderly, doing patient transport.

    "It introduces you to the hustle and bustle of the hospital."

    Hunter is confident that each of these experiences in the Linked Learning Alliance will lead him to his goal of becoming a doctor in neuro oncology.

    "I have always had a fascination with the brain," Hunter says. "It's what makes a person a person, you know. It's what makes each of us unique."

    Paul Hurley is a former Opinion Page editor for the Visalia Times-Delta. You can reach him at

    This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: Mt. Whitney High School Linked Learning students score gold

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