ACADEMICS HIGHLIGHTS: CTE
Inside the classrooms that are part of Sutherlin High School’s Career & Technical Education, one fact quickly becomes clear: There is no such thing as a typical day.
That’s hardly surprising, given the program’s scope and number of activities. On a given afternoon, students in one of Ron Owings’ information/technology classes calculate architectural dimensions for an interior design project. Nearby, a 16-year-old junior codes a game he designed that pits humans against demons.
Over in the woodshop supervised by instructor Josh Gary, manufacturing/woods students are completing projects commissioned by a variety of clients. One student adds paint to a wooden camper shell featuring a solar panel. Another sits at a computer, drawing a tool path for the computer-numerical-controlled ShopBot that screams a few feet away.
Projects are also humming in the Vocational Agriculture Shop just east of the woodshop. Students in Wes Crawford’s agricultural science & technology class don masks and other protective clothing before firing up welding torches. One boy works on the spikes of a wrought-iron fence. A girl uses a state-of-the-art plasma cutter to reproduce metal cheetah paws for the Wildlife Safari in Winston.
In all three branches of the school’s CTE programs, students ebb and flow around their respective instructors in an ever-shifting kaleidoscope. The teens lob questions, describe problems, ask for materials or request guidance for a next step. But there is a master plan driving the apparent hubbub. Its mission is found on a Sutherlin CTE business card that states the programs “are integrated components preparing students for success in careers and college, ready for 21st century employment.”
The three areas of instruction that make up the Sutherlin CTE program are not new to the district. But thanks to state funding and other support, the courses are better equipped to help the district invest in its children’s future.
The Oregon Department of Education announced in 2014 that Sutherlin High was one of 140 Oregon schools chosen to receive CTE revitalization grants totaling $8.87 million. Sutherlin was granted about $309,500 to work with industry partners on providing students with employable skills.
The announcement followed a discussion among school and district leaders who had decided it was time to ramp up student preparation for the workforce.
“We were at a point with our infrastructure and our facilities that we were functional, but we were not putting students out to careers to the degree we wanted,” Mr. Crawford said.
After industry-driven legislation made the revitalization grants available, SHS was ready to “take an integrated approach with our industry partners to prepare students in already strong programs for employability,” Mr. Crawford said.
Today, Sutherlin CTE has 17 industry partners committed to providing Sutherlin students with education and training where they can apply their skills and gain hands-on experience. The program is affiliated with Future Business Leaders of America, Skills USA and the National FFA Organization.
Mr. Crawford is quick to point out that the CTE classes don’t fit the old stereotypes of “alternative” curriculum, where kids show up because they aren’t college material. All three CTE program teachers say motivation and initiative are crucial to success in the subjects they teach.
Mr. Owings, a tech teacher for the past decade, said all nine of the classes he is qualified to offer are electives. Some students are seeking basic computer skills they’ll need in college. Others are less successful in traditional academic subjects, but brilliant at skills required for game design or artificial intelligence. A class in interior, fashion and industrial design concepts was crafted to attract students with an artistic background with an interest in developing computer art skills.
Three of his classes – web design, computer applications and hardware reconstruction (troubleshooting machines) – give students Umpqua Community College credits.
In the more advanced classes, students often have already taken multiple classes with Mr. Owings and may outline a course of study that requires them to take an online course. These students will outline their goals and get Mr. Owings’ approval before setting off on a self-appointed curriculum. Some of these students have amassed more self-instruction hours than their teacher on certain programs.
“What they do is make a contract with me,” Mr. Owings said. “They take the class and I’m the facilitator. They’re getting instruction they can’t get anywhere else. If they are motivated, I let them do their own thing. But it’s hard, even if it is an elective.”
One junior and aspiring professional video game designer explained he was recoding a game so that the computer mouse would adjust movements on the camera, not the character depicted on the screen. Most of what he does is basic problem-solving, he said.
A similar theme prevails in Mr. Gary’s woodshop.
“Up here, we make mistakes,” he said. “We learn how to adapt and problem-solve. That’s the most valuable skill.”
At the same time, Mr. Gary knows students flourish when they are having a good time. A student who wants to build a skateboard ramp will get a green light because, as his teacher explains, “He’s using the same technology he would to make a shed at home. I’m teaching him how to do a home improvement project, but we’re making it fun at the same time.”
Students in Mr. Crawford’s agricultural science and technology courses are picking up a variety of transferable skills as well, whether it’s in animal science, plant science, agribusiness, welding or a combination of those components. Two of his students this year earned an American FFA degree, one of the organization’s highest honors and one that is attained by less than half of one percent of all FFA members. Four of his students were named to the award last year. In addition, one of Mr. Crawford’s 2014-15 students will travel next year as an FFA officer.
As with Mr. Owings’ information/technology courses, students in Mr. Crawford’s ag science & technology courses are able to earn college credit. Mr. Crawford said he hopes that will soon be the case in Mr. Gary’s manufacturing/woods classes as well.
Several forces have come together to help Sutherlin High produce a thriving CTE program. First, Mr. Crawford said, the school has the right instructors in place.
“Ron and Josh are good at what they do, and they care about kids,” he said, using words that describe his own commitment as well. “They put in a lot of hours outside class and they aren’t afraid of changing and adapting as needed.”
Second, he said, school administrators recognize the value of the program for students who show initiative and ability. He said they find ways to support CTE, which is not inexpensive to maintain.
Lastly, Mr. Crawford credits the community with rallying around a program that enhances student opportunities.
“There are a lot of local folks who agree with the need and are committed to help us in the direction we’re going,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”