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San Diego Unified just scored a $125,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation to develop programs that link schoolwork to the workplace, but also prepare them for college.

The grant hinges on an idea called “multiple pathways,” which poses that career technical education, once known as vocational education, can and should coexist with rigorous academic programs. In the past, career technical education was stigmatized as an alternate and lesser path than college, and sometimes was cordoned off from the general academic program, leaving its graduates unprepared for the California university system. Multiple pathways are meant to engage students in their academic work by linking it explicitly to their career studies, increasing student interest and curtailing dropouts.

Gary Hoachlander, president of the California Center for College and Career, which was founded through Irvine Foundation money, said that schools should “prepare students for college and career, no longer one or the other.”

“That is hard to do,” he admitted in a speech to San Diego Unified staffers Thursday.

Superintendent Terry Grier applauded the idea, and recounted the story of a Tennessee student who received a scholarship and aced her Advanced Placement courses and exams, but said her favorite classes were welding and agricultural science, and later studied to be a veterinarian.

“You don’t always have to go down one track or another track,” Grier said.

Virginia Eves, director of the Office of College, Career and Technical Education, said the district is still determining how to use the money. San Diego Unified already runs a number of career technical programs, from construction technology at one of the schools-within-a-school at Kearny High to environmental sciences at another small high school in San Diego High. Eves said the group could help develop new career pathways and expand access to existing programs, so that a wide range of career programs are available to students in all areas of the city.

EMILY ALPERT

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