I had the pleasure of shadowing Vivek Sivan, a ninth grade student at West High School who is part of our first cohort of students in the Health Services Pathway, to experience some of his classes and see firsthand what Personalized Pathways is all about. Vivek was chosen because of his passion for his classes and his eagerness to share his experience.
Pictured here: Vivek Sivan, ninth grade student at West High School
Remind me: What is Personalized Pathways?
This is the first year that Pathways has been in Madison schools. It was implemented in each of our four comprehensive high schools – East, La Follette, Memorial and West – and I was anxious to see how it has been going so far.
While you’ve probably heard about it or at least of it, it’s not always an easy concept to grasp without seeing it in action or hearing about it from a student involved. Students who enroll in a Personalized Pathway get a unique high school experience in which a theme – our current theme is Health Services, and West’s specific theme is Health Equity for Social Justice – is incorporated into all of their core classes: English, science, social studies and sometimes math as well as in the elective course Health Science Exploration. You won’t hear Pathways students asking, Why are we learning this? Every day they are applying their learning to real-world scenarios and learning through experiences “in the field.”
In Vivek’s first class, US History, I got a front row seat to watch this “interrelated coursework” in action. Woven into the curriculum on the American West was today’s cause and effect lesson on the diabetes epidemic in Native American communities. I sat back and listened to the discussion:
“What’s another cause or effect?” Vivek’s teacher Blair Feltham asked. Unlike most high school classes I remember where I’d raise my hand and hope to be called on (or in some cases, the opposite), students seemed comfortable sharing their ideas discussion-style.
“Loss of identity” one voice called out.
“Starvation,” another offered.
“Can I say an effect?” a student asked. “So, effects were blindness, kidney failure and amputation.”
“Now, do me a favor,” Feltham continued. “As you’re thinking about cause and effect, see if you can think about community effects. When so many people are dying of diabetes or going blind or losing limbs, what is the effect on the whole community? If there’s a lot of death in your community, that might lead to stress.”
A voice came from across the room: “It gets normalized,” they said, connecting this to hopelessness.
“Poor diet and poverty?” another chimed in. “If they can’t afford good food, they have to go to the really cheap aisles with chips and junk food.” A few students Mmm-hmm’ed and nodded in agreement.
“There’s one more cause I’d like to get in there,” Feltham said, said, hinting at what she was looking for. “One more thing specific to the Pima. Before white settlement, the Pima got to farm, they were able to eat traditional foods. But what happened that changed that?”
“The diversion of the Gila River,” a student spoke up, “thereby not having the water to farm, they couldn’t sustain produce, whereas basically the rest of the white area around them did now have water.”
“Yes,” Feltham answered. “The Gila River Dam, which historically gave water to people in that part of Arizona. But it was dammed. And so all the water got sent upstream to places like ranches on farms run by white people. So we can connect that to with loss of identity.”
“There’s been a great sense of community between the kids, because you have your classes with pretty much all the same kids. For me, that’s really important that I am comfortable with my classmates. And in my classes now, we all get along. I think that’s really important for your education, because if you’re not comfortable with your teachers and your classmates, you can’t learn and you won’t want to participate in class.” – Isabel, La Follette High School student
Pictured here: Sharon and Isabel, two ninth grade students at La Follette High School who were recently featured on our Spanish-language radio program ¿Qué pasa en nuestras escuelas? [What's happening in our schools?] to talk about Personalized Pathways. Hear their interview (in Spanish).
Fifteen Pathways students recently enjoyed a field trip to Edgewood College where they learned about health-related careers, like nursing. Read the full article here.
Pictured here: Students at Edgewood College looking at an image of a skeleton