Last month’s Linked Learning Convention in Palm Springs offered many opportunities to see and hear about so much good work in the growing number of districts around the country embracing the Linked Learning approach. On Tuesday morning, I had the opportunity to tour Indio High School, home to several strong pathways.

In particular, The Health and Nutritional Sciences Academy stood out. The Academy had a rather unique emphasis on the “three pillars of wellness:” movement, nutrition, and mindfulness. Their aim is to develop in students a deep understanding of the relationship between diet and health, including how to recognize and manage stress, anxiety, or depression, and how to identify the symptoms of chronic diseases such as diabetes, which are often triggered by issues of diet or lifestyle.

Equally interesting is the Academy’s partnership with nearby Eisenhower Hospital. The Hospital’s teaching rotation for residents includes, in addition to the regular departments within the hospital, two or three days at the Academy. Residents help mentor and teach the high school students, which is unique on its own, but they also have the opportunity, along with the students, to probe issues of personal health and community medicine that their formal medical school training ignored or under-emphasized.

Jason Tate, Director of the Academy, brings an unusual combination of skills. In addition to holding a formal science teaching credential, he is a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach. Lourdes Flores, with a background in maternal fetal medicine and research, who taught biology prior to joining the Academy, now teaches Project Lead the Way’s Principles of Medical Science, Medical Terminology, and Medical Intervention. Both supervise 12th grade student interns.

Students can speak about types of cholesterol, causes of Type II diabetes, and re-estrification with a level of understanding and sophistication that I do not even possess now as an older adult, let alone as a high school student. Impressive indeed!

The Health and Nutritional Sciences Academy is an outstanding example of what it takes to design and deliver a high-quality Linked Learning Pathway: engaging thematic focus, clarity on what students should know and be able to do, rigorous curriculum, well-qualified teachers, committed industry partners, real-world projects driven by standards and industry validation, demanding internships, and deep caring by adults for young people. A tall order to be sure, but when it all comes together, the impact for students is so very, very evident.