Pathways: a unique learning experience for seniors

Ashton+Stranton+sews+patches+onto+hats+for+his+internship+with+Tommy+Breeze.

Elliot Smith

Ashton Stranton sews patches onto hats for his internship with Tommy Breeze.

Not all students want a standard high school schedule. For some, it is more beneficial to have flexibility in their curriculum and increased access to various methods of learning. Through Tamiscal High School’s Pathways Program, students can experience just that.

Pathways, led by program director Alyssa Callahan, is a program offered to seniors attending Tamiscal, an alternative high school within the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD).  In Pathways, students explore academic and career possibilities through internships and College of Marin (COM) classes, along with normal high school curriculum. COM classes allow students to take more specific courses than an average high school class, giving students more in-depth, diversified learning experiences.

A LOT OF PEOPLE [JOIN PATHWAYS] FOR INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITIES, OR CAREER, OR TO PURSUE STUFF RELATED TO THEIR MAJOR, BUT I DID IT BECAUSE I WANTED A STRONG COMMUNITY.”

— Julia Ng-Heth

Pathways students also take their high school core curriculum classes, such as English and History, at Tamiscal twice a week. There are two cohorts, about 25 students in each, with about 50 in the program overall. Additionally, students have the option to take one or two classes at the high school they previously attended. Pathways students must obtain an internship for the year for life experience. They also receive support for their learning, college applications, and job applications through the Pathways team made up of teachers and counselors. 

This year’s seniors chose the Pathways program for a variety of reasons. For Julia Ng-Heth, who previously attended Archie Williams High School (AWHS), much of her decision had to do with the community Pathways provides.

“A lot of people [join Pathways] for internship opportunities, or career, or to pursue stuff related to their major, but I did it because I wanted a strong community,” Julia said.

In addition to her studies, Julia has an internship at the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), an environmental organization which aims to protect endangered salmon and their habitat in the Lagunitas Creek Watershed in West Marin. 

“SPAWN does habitat restoration and fish monitoring along local creeks to try to positively influence the salmon population…They also have a large nursery where they grow native plants including many redwood trees. I go there on Fridays from 10-4 to work in the nursery,” Julia said.

Nikki Lee decided to join the Pathways program for the opportunity to create a schedule to fit her interests and take classes centered around environmental science that provide her with rigorous academic challenges. For Nikki, Pathways has shifted her academic mindset away from worrying about grades to enhancing her overall learning and growth. She acknowledges that though this style of learning isn’t optimal for everyone, it has been beneficial for her in retaining information and living a happier, less stressful school life.

Nikki Lee organizes hats for her internship with Tommy Breeze Elliot Smith

Pathways not only allows me to have freedom in crafting my own schedule, but also teaches me practical skills like time management, resume-building, and job interviewing for optimal success in the real world,” Nikki said.

Nikki’s first internship was at Wisdom Supply Company, a zero-waste company that sells school and office supplies that can be recycled and repaired. Nikki packed orders and 

product kits and worked on the company’s advertising on social media. Her second internship at Tommy Breeze – an art, apparel, and design studio – introduced her to graphic design, where she was taught to sew using an industrial machine and worked at pop-up events. Additionally, Nikki created her own patch with a Pathways logo there. 

“Learning how to adjust in new environments [Tamiscal High School, College of Marin, internship sites] and gain real world experience is something that cannot be replicated in any textbook or lecture,” Nikki said. 

For Mae Hutchinson, having an internship in the Pathways program has also been useful in broadening her understanding of the workforce. Her internship is at Juice Beauty, a natural skincare and makeup company.

“I really enjoy the professional experience that I’m gaining. It’s a great way to get a start on building up my resume and work experience,” Mae said.

Mae is grateful for the class variety that Pathways provides, especially with the many options available at COM, including art classes that provide her the foundation for her upcoming college education in art.

“Because the Pathways program is very focused on independence, it’s very much about the effort that you put into it… If you find COM classes that interest you, look for an internship that inspires you, and connect with those in the Pathways community, it can be an extremely rewarding experience,” Mae said.

For Aidan Tran, Pathways has helped him prepare for college and his future as an aspiring teacher. As part of his Pathways experience, he shadows at AWHS for teachers Beth Freedman and Kathleen McCormick while they teach their English and Social Studies classes. 

            “I’ve used my time in the classroom to see how students interact with content, observe Ms. Freedman and Ms. McCormick’s teaching strategies, and ask them about what it’s like being a teacher,” Aidan said. 

          In addition to hands-on career experience, he also took InterCommunication Studies and Introduction to Ethics classes at COM. This semester, he is taking Introduction to Anthropology and Reading & Composition. 

           Aidan appreciates how Pathways helped him with his college application process, as he ended up using an essay that he wrote in class for his UC application. 

            “In short, Pathways basically makes preparing for college [filling out applications and writing/editing essays] part of the curriculum,” Aidan said. 

The Pathways program at Tamiscal High School allows students to experiment with alternative educational opportunities, providing unique life skills that can be applied to real world scenarios.