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home : education : schools January 24, 2015

7/30/2013 12:41:00 PM
Is vocational education disappearing from schools?
By John Griffith

Over the years, many in Sisters have bemoaned the supposed fact that there does not appear to be room for vocational training in the modern high school curriculum. Of particular concern is the plight of kids that are not college bound, or at least not college bound directly after high school graduation.

There is a vocal concern that these kids were being left behind, along with the kids who did not fit into the regular high school curriculum and culture.

Not so, says longtime Sisters High School (SHS) Counselor Dan Saraceno.

"There is this old dialogue that says you look at vocational placement because the kid has not been successful, because they are not going to college," he said. "I think we need to change that dialogue."

Those directly involved in the schools understand that it doesn't appear that there is vocational training going on, or that vocational training is intentional. But such learning is going on - just in a different way than we are traditionally used to seeing.

Gone are the obvious and more traditional models of auto shop, wood shop and home economics. In their place, kids are working internships for school credits at local car repair shops, blacksmith shops, and guitar-makers. Others are working in the culinary arts program at the high school where they are charged with the responsibility for running an open-to-the public restaurant complete with planning, buying, preparing and serving real meals for paying customers - at a profit.

"The old traditional vocational programs have morphed into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and internship programs," said Saraceno. "This is where STEM opens up the new world. STEM-based programs are manufacturing, technology, engineering, mathematics; they should catch a broad continuum of kids.

"If you are interested in medical work there are vocational placement programs for kids that are not headed to medical school but perhaps towards a radiology tech in a two-year program, or nursing or EMT."

For some time there has been a rotation with St. Charles Medical Center, where kids job-shadow and intern around surgery, X-ray, and engineering sites.

"Any time you (a student) can gain a skill to help you decide where you want to go to college, or that gives you that work-related experience - I think that is voc-ed," said Sisters High School Principal Joe Hosang.

"We have long been perplexed when a student's record shows that 'Johnny is a lazy so-and-so,' and yet when that same kid gets a part-time job at the local gas station his boss goes on and on about what a great worker that kid is," continued Hosang. "In these cases our traditional education is missing something.

"Our challenge is how do you keep the 'hard work,' real-world component when we are so strongly proficiency based," said Hosang. "When we are put in a box that our educational experience has to be within this building, we are severely limiting our students' abilities to challenge their needs and inspire their interests."

Saraceno noted that, "In finding ways to engage our students outside the classroom, we are only limited by our imaginations. Our outreach to engage kids in their education has got to be broad. It has to appeal to all the kids, high-end to low-end, it has got to teach those skills kids need to get turned on to learning. Then we need to provide the opportunity, once they decide the direction that they want to go, of how to make that happen for them."

Sisters High School is bringing Heather Johnson back in a full-time position to develop a health/medical focus set of coursework that will include EMT, medical technology and nursing options.

Tony Cosby's luthier (guitar building) program will be morphing into a STEM lab with engineering and computer numerical control (CNC) options.

Rob Corrigan is now a nationally certified STEM instructor and will work to implement that national program.

Because of its small size, Sisters High School does not have the number of students or staff to support the technology centers, vocational labs and specialized advanced courses that Bend, Redmond and Crook County schools have developed.

To bring more focus on school-to-work, Morgan Davis was brought into SHS Student Services last year to focus a more formalized real-world immersion for SHS students. Through an aggressive internship and job-shadow program, Davis hopes to be able to provide every SHS student with real-life work experience by the time they graduate high school.

"Many of the kids that are doing extremely well at Sisters High, and that are going to prestigious colleges, they've never had a job - because so much of the focus is on academics and sports for a large percentage of the kids here," said Davis. "If we could get enough community members on board, we could create enough internships where every student is getting a chance to experience a real job at some level before they graduate."

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