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Bringing Industry Experience and Real World Opportunities to Hometown Students through the Porterville Pathways Linked Learning Program.

High school kids in Homegrown’s own hometown have the opportunity to get their hands dirty and experiment with careers in agriculture through the Porterville Pathways linked learning program. Homegrown grower Tom Avinelis and his son Gunnar, who also works in agriculture, are playing a key roll in bringing real-world industry experience to the classroom through their service on the advisory board for the Emerging Agricultural Technologies Pathway.*

Porterville Pathways

Advisory board members include both industry professionals and educational leaders, and all are highly involved in the educational process by way of making classroom presentations, having meetings with students, providing networking connections, facilitating field trips, and reviewing curriculum.

“Agriculture is evolving and the need for technical, scientific, and management expertise in agriculture is growing at a tremendous rate. We have a tremendous need in ag today for educated employees. This program really opened the door for industry to get very linked in with the educational process and contribute to the direction,” said Tom, who currently chairs the board.

Being able to bring a broad understanding of the needs of the industry into the heart of the educational process helps get the tools students will need to be successful in the job market in their hands and their heads early on.

In addition to getting a head start on building necessary job skills, Tom and Gunnar hope that students will be able to better see the wide scope of the agricultural industry and the ag-related careers available to them. Gunnar has spent a good deal of time in the classroom involving the students in projects that touch on the process of getting products on the grocery store shelf, which is his current professional focus. For instance, Gunnar pulled the students in on a marketing project for Homegrown’s freeze-dried organic blueberries. The students were tasked with doing their own consumer research and coming up with recommendations for how this product should be packaged, marketed, and priced. Gunnar taught workshops about creating surveys, organizing findings, and building a marketing plan over the course of the months-long project.

“They might not have connected some of this stuff with agriculture on their own,” Gunnar said, “Growing up in a rural environment myself, as the child of a farmer, I understand some of the students’ misconceptions about what a career in agriculture would look like, and we work hard to provide opportunities to expand their horizons and get kids excited about the opportunities available right in their backyard.”

Gunnar recounted a moment from a recent farm field trip with the students that illustrates the program at its best, “When one of our field engineers showed the group the control panels used to monitor and manage the inputs going to the plants, one of the students asked if there were people who made a living creating and designing things like this. When we told him yes, his face lit up and he said that he’d love to learn about that technology—so he could do something like that every day. That type of enthusiasm is what we are looking to create in these kids because if motivated, we know they will work harder in the classroom and be better prepared upon graduation.”

For Tom and Gunnar, being a part of the Pathways Program is an opportunity to invest in the education of young people in their community as well as into a brighter future for the industry as a whole.

*In 2009, Porterville USD was one of six California school districts to receive a grant from the James Irvine Foundation to create a linked learning program, which includes ten opt-in, career-themed “pathways” to education. The pathways determine the focus for the students’ core classes as well as educational experiences available outside of the classroom

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