Photo of dignitaries breaking ground for new MaderaTEC middle school

Madera Technical Exploration Center Planning and Prepping Coursework

community meeting about MaderaTEC
Photo of dignitaries breaking ground for new MaderaTEC middle school

By Alyson Rocco, Madera Technical Exploration Center (Madera TEC) Principal, Milagros Delgado, Madera TEC ELA Teacher, Arnido Aranico, Madera TEC ELA Teacher, and Johnny Corona, Madera TEC CTE Teacher

MADERA UNIFIED ONCE again is pushing to be at the forefront of a constantly changing educational system by developing a lab school ingrained in the idea that education must be engaging, interactive and most importantly relevant.

This has been an idea that within the last 5 years has only been a dream. Then in November 2018, with strong community support, Measure M was passed with 61% of the community voting “yes,” allowing Madera Unified to raise $120 million to renovate parts of older schools, build two new elementary schools and build a new concurrent enrollment school.

The recently named, Madera Technical Exploration Center (Madera TEC), is being built on the corner of Sunrise Ave. and Tozer St. across from Virginia Lee Rose Elementary, will not only be the first of its kind in Madera Unified but also will be the only school in California that integrates project based learning and 8th grade curriculum though a career themed lens.

The school will consist of six core career-themed pathways: Agriculture, Entrepreneurship and Marketing, Health, Manufacturing and Engineering, Public Safety, and Digital and Performing Arts. The focus is to help prepare students for a more rigorous Career Technical Education (CTE) experience at the soon-to-be three comprehensive high schools: Madera High, Madera South, and Matilda Torres.

At the completion of the 2018-2019 school year, Madera Unified School District hired principal, Alyson Rocco, and a staff of 18 highly qualified teachers to complete planning and curriculum development in order to create the foundations of this new lab school prior to opening.

At the onset of this school year, Superintendent Todd Lile met with the entire staff on the first day of planning and explained the Madera Unified Community Compact, mission, vision, creed and core values that were board approved in the spring of 2019. Superintendent Lile also discussed at length the journey from conception to reality.

On August 15, 2019, the principal and teachers were warmly welcomed with a full audience of community supporters and dignitaries for the groundbreaking of the new school.

So, what makes this school unique, not only to Madera Unified, but also in the state of California? The fact that the lab school will not be a traditional school with one teacher in a classroom with 38 students and one subject. Instead, the lab team of three teachers will work within shared lab spaces to integrate academics through a career theme with up to 90 students.

The focus of teaching will be Project-Based Learning through Career Technical Education (CTE). The curriculum will engage the students’ intellectual curiosity by personalizing learning through choice and by giving them a hands-on environment where lessons become relevant to the real-world.

The teaching staff has had the opportunity to collaborate with our high school CTE teachers to find out how the new school can build foundational knowledge and soft skills to support Madera Unified Graduate Profile expectations. Staff visitations to various high school classes, in and outside the district, will guide efforts in developing the curriculum in which 8th grade students will be engaged. The lab school teachers will continue to visit classrooms to see the new Explorations of CTE courses, project-based learning in action, observe high leverage teaching strategies, and how they might blend the various school cultures on their site.

In the first several months of the school year, the staff has been working on developing the year plan, which includes numerous tasks that need to be completed prior to the school doors opening. The plan includes the timeframe in which each task must be completed.

One of the first assignments was to create mission and vision statements, for the Madera Technical Exploration Center, to encapsulate its purpose. Then a list of names for the school with community stakeholder input was created based on the mission and vision. Subcommittees have been created within the team to work on various tasks such as school culture and climate, and school values and policies.

Larger portions of the year plan include professional learning community (PLC) training, which is an intensive workshop where staff learn about best educational practices for teacher teaming and collaboration. It is these PLC teams that will develop lab team program designs, agreements, syllabi, course outlines, recruitment materials, and handbooks.

The initial vision for the lab school was derived from the Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART). The overwhelming question is why don’t we provide this model for students earlier in their education considering the positive impact for students? Knowing that CART was centered in the vision of our school, the Madera lab school teachers have visited the CART site multiple times to see what learning looks like in a lab setting, and will continue to shadow throughout the year. On initial visits, teachers paid close attention to how CART creates a school climate and culture of pride for their site in addition to students home sites. CART students come from 13 different schools, within two districts, much like our lab school will have students from 7 different sites (K-8 and middle school sites).

A wide variety of expertise exists within the staff. Part of the early work is identifying their strengths in the education realm and providing professional development to their entire staff.

An example of this is Linda Tolladay, an MUSD employee of 14 years, who has been hired to teach Science in the Agriculture Lab. Ms. Tolladay has a strong background in Academic Talk and has provided professional development on the topic to the entire staff.

Madera Unified has hired an educational consultant to work with the staff. Theron Cosgrave, of Swanson and Cosgrave, is providing professional development on project-based learning, curriculum development and strategic planning.

During the next few months, the lab teams will delve deeper into team agreements, which will outline the norms, roles, and agreements that will be shared between the teacher teams as they coordinate their work and shared space together.

Each of the six labs will consist of a CTE Teacher, an English Teacher, and either a history, science or math teacher. Along with the content-specific standards for English, math, science or history standards, the CTE standards will also be addressed. Additionally, because students will be working in a lab classroom environment, cross-curriculum is being developed for each of the individual pathways.

In the coming months, the lab staff will also participate in teacher externships during which they will spend extended time either working alongside or shadowing employer partners in relevant industry sectors, in order to better understand the field and to gain insights about the applied knowledge in their pathway.

For parents of current 7th grade students, further information on how your child can be a part of this innovative school will be distributed soon. Recruitment will take place in the winter months. The Madera TEC staff is excited about serving 8th graders across Madera Unified and inspiring students to emerge as leaders ready to think critically, communicate, and collaborate with creativity and resilience.


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