When most of the adult workforce went through high school, they were still wondering what algebra would ever have to do with their career.

While students today still have to take algebra, every student in Long Beach Unified has the option to learn how math relates to their prospective career through the Linked Learning.

The relatively new approach aims to prepare students for college and for the workforce. Students pick a pathway of study in eighth grade—such as public health, hospitality, criminal justice and many others—that the rest of their classes throughout high school will be based off of, much like picking a major in college.

City and education officials gathered recently to congratulate three high schools in the district for achieving Linked Learning’s Gold Certification. The students within three pathways, the Academy of Law and Justice at Cabrillo High School and the Criminal Justice and Investigation and Engineering pathways at Earnest S. McBride, Sr. High, were among the first in the country to perform well enough to earn this certification.

“I’m positive on it,” said Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who was there to speak to the students. “My own daughter is taking a law class at Wilson, and it’s good to see her engaged … Kids need variety in education.”

LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser; Khieem Jackson, deputy superintendent for the California Department of Education and Anne Stanton, president of Linked Learning Alliance, were among many officials and educators who formally congratulated students in the Cabrillo High School Courtroom.

“If they had a pathway in aerospace-engineering or physics when I was a high school student in Long Beach I would have taken it,” said Jackson, who graduated from the Academy of Mathematics and Science in 1994.

LBUSD was just one of nine districts in California to try out the Linked Learning approach in 2009, thanks to funding from the James Irvine Foundation. And just a few years ago, every high school in the district had made the switch, providing 27 different possible pathways across 10 schools.

“I want to go into cyber law because I’ve always loved technology and watching those shows like CSI where they’re going after the bad guy,” said Alivia Ross, a junior at Cabrillo High School who chose the Law and Justice pathway. “It’s nice to take a history class or statistics and have it relate to what I’m studying.”

The idea was to eliminate an age old question uttered by countless teens for decades: Why are we learning about this?

“One of my favorite classes is forensics,” said Mia Gueche, a senior at McBride Sr. High School who chose the criminal justice and investigation pathway. “We’ve been given a lot of opportunities to get hands on experience.”

Gueche said her classmates are currently working on cat dissections to learn how to perform an autopsy. CSI, she said, is one of her favorite shows.

“Does anyone here know who was president during World War I? I didn’t know either because who cares,” said Cindy Bater, program manager for Linked Learning within LBUSD. “But I read a book about the swine flu in 1917—[Woodrow] Wilson was the president by the way—and I knew that because of the book that I read and I learned that through the lens of something that I was interested in.”

Bater said that while the gold certification shows that students are responding exceedingly well to those particular pathways, it is not necessarily an indicator that other groups of students in different pathways aren’t doing well.

“This is a measurement that these particular pathways are achieving high quality,” Bater said. “It’s not setting them apart in terms of these people are getting an education and these people are not, this is just the beginning of us taking a look at it.”

The second tier of certification is Silver, which was previously awarded to Cabrillo High School’s Academy of Global Logistics, Engineering and Design, Specialized Academy of Computer Media, and Arts and Animation. Bater said they will be working to analyze more pathways throughout the district to determine if they meet Gold or Silver Certification standards.

According to Jay Camerino, assistant superintendent of high schools, parents have increasingly become more supportive over the years but there have been some adverse reactions and confusion.

“There’s a little bit of a state of confusion with our parents because they think ‘oh my gosh you’re already declaring a major,’” he said. “So that’s been a challenge to communicate that it’s an experience.”

According to Bater, sometimes conflicts with the pathway system arise when a parent and child don’t agree on choosing a pathway.

“Sometimes [parents] have all the say because they may decide for their child where they want them to go,” Bater said. “Usually what happens when a parent decides against the child’s will typically the child convinces the parents to let them switch after a while.”

She also added that there is a small percentage of students who have opted to take a non-thematic pathway; however, most students have little trouble picking one of the 27 pathways by going to school fairs and learning about possible areas of study at their middle schools.

“I think this is something that really benefits the kids,” said Emily View, a history teacher at Cabrillo High School. “We’re focusing here on career readiness, we’re focusing on developing whole people.”