State salutes Johansen program in Modesto that spices learning with service

naustin@modbee.comMay 14, 2013 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin

— It's not enough to ace the tests. A Johansen High program picked as a model by the California Department of Education grades students on job performance, researching social causes and active citizenship.

The state named Johansen's Education-Human Development Academy a "Lighthouse Academy" this year, one of eight out of 481 contenders, commended for doing career-technical education right.

The three-year commitment wraps English, history and elective courses around a focus on human development and community action. Students work internships at schools, shadow someone in a career field of interest, spend their junior year researching a cause and as seniors take on a community action project, said program coordinator Nicole Evans.

For this year's project, seniors spent a Saturday earlier this month leading a sports clinic for youngsters, raising money for Without Permission, a nonprofit to combat human trafficking. Other seniors have taken part in rallies or joined charity runs as a way to take a stand for or against an issue.

"We're trying to make them agents of change in their community," said Evans, who teaches the capstone class in which seniors bring their projects to life.

Junior year, students travel to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and pick a social injustice topic of interest to them, studying how the problem began and evolved as a history project and then writing about it in English.

Forming bonds

Weaving chosen subject matter through different classes teaches in a way that connects learning and careers, a trademark strategy of California Partnership Academies. The programs serve mostly "at-risk" students, working with industry partners to give academics real-world meaning.

It takes more to make it through, Evans added, but teens choose their path.

"It's very hands-on. The work can be tough, the rigor is a step above and then all the extra projects," she said. "But they have to apply and interview to get in. They are motivated and they will make it work."

The three-year program melds three classes a day for most students, making it a close-knit community, said senior Fernando Tello. "You become a family after three years together," he said. "Teachers don't forget about you."

As he leaves, he said, "There's no regrets. I just wish I could have another year." Tello is heading to college next, he added, to be a psychiatrist or a firefighter.

Senior Elin Walters volunteers at elementary schools and knows she wants a career working with children, maybe as a child psychologist.

The layered approach to jobs and social awareness laid out at Johansen set its academy apart for Lighthouse evaluators, teacher Rachelle Barkus said. "It was the way we run our program, the integrated projects," she said.

Around her classroom, teens created children's books for elementary students they help as aides. Each book addressed problems their young charges might face. For sophomore Melinda Sullivan, it was first-day nerves at a new school. Her character finds a new friend to help her through.

Finding solutions is the focus of the Johansen program, which teaches teens "workability skills" and a lot of psychology. The unifying factor of all the academy career paths are people skills, Barkus said. "We say we're the people professions," she said.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339, on Twitter, @NanAustin,

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