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2017 January 5 - 03:52 pm

Back to the Future: Vocational Education Making Comeback

Oregon Investing Millions in Career Technical Education Programs

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — As a freshman at Springfield High School, Leyah Krimbow dreaded going to class.

“I used to ask my mom every morning if I could stay home,” said Krimbow, now a 17-year-old senior. “I hated coming to school. The classes were pointless and boring, and I didn’t see why I had to go.”

But because of scheduling conflicts, Krimbow, 14 at the time, was placed in an introductory automotive class titled “Small Gas Engines.” And her life changed forever.

After completing her first engines class, Krimbow, whose grade point average had been 2.8 out of a possible 4.0, enrolled in a series of advanced automotive classes. She learned how to take apart and reassemble head gaskets, replace brakes on trucks and change flat tires as well as basic car maintenance.

Krimbow’s grade point average is now 3.5, and her dreams have soared as well. She wants to be an aeronautical engineer.

“Auto (class) has helped with everything, absolutely everything. It’s a big motivator. It gets me to come to school in the morning because it’s my first class. It holds me accountable to get good grades in my other classes, and it’s given me so many college credits,” she said. “These classes have changed my life completely.”

Krimbow is just one of an increasing number of high school students in the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area who have chosen to spend their high school hours taking classes in Career Technical Education.

Examples of such classes — once known as vocational courses — include construction technology, business management, early childhood development, computer sciences, robotics, engineering, culinary arts and more.

But these programs have evolved to include more than just home economics and woodworking, although those programs still remain much in demand. Career Technical Education courses help students to gain the skills, technical knowledge, academic foundation and experience needed to prepare them for high-skilled, high-demand, living-wage careers after high school, according to the Oregon Department of Education, which has pledged to invest more money in such programs.

Local educators say the state’s renewed interest in these programs is a recent development.

For many years, vocational courses were an essential component of the high school curriculum, Willamette High School design and manufacturing teacher Terry Harrison said.

“Believe it or not, in the 1970s and ‘80s vocational programs were important, and then there was this sort of push to encourage students to attend a four-year college, and those programs were set aside,” Harrison said. “But what has come about in the last three or four years is an influx of retirees in fields like construction, plumbing, welding and electrical work, and with the economy back on track, there’s more of a need for people who are trained in those areas.”

Harrison said an increase in state funding for CTE programs also has played a role in expanding them.

To encourage the growth of CTE programs, the Oregon Legislature appropriated $8.75 million over the course of the 2015-17 biennium to motivate districts across the state to provide highquality CTE programs to qualify students for living-wage, indemand occupations.

Mike Hodgert, an automotive, woodworking and shop industry and engineering teacher at Willamette, said he has about “27,000 reasons” why CTE classes benefit students.

“Well for one, they (students) like school, and they keep coming back, which means they graduate,” Hodgert half-shouted over the grinding of two table saws in the Willamette wood shop. “They also feel like they belong here. The kids who maybe feel like they’re not very good at math or writing, they can walk in here and learn something that empowers them — and they can walk out of here with a job offer.”

Hodgert, a 31-year Willamette High veteran, said that several students are offered well-paying jobs each year at the end of their senior year.

“I had at least 10 calls last year from people ... who wanted to hire these kids,” Hodgert said. “It was a little too late in the year, they already all had jobs lined up, but the community shows consistent interest in students who come out of these programs.”

In addition to helping students jump start a career, CTE programs significantly boost graduation rates and lower drop-out rates in Lane County and across the state.

In Oregon, students enrolled in CTE programs are 15.5 percent more likely to graduate from high school in four years than students who do not take the courses, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education.

In 2015, the state of Oregon had its highest high school dropout rate — 4.3 percent — in more than a decade. That seemingly small percentage accounts for more than 10,000 students.

Local educators said that CTE programs can help to reduce that number.

Churchill High School Principal Greg Borgerding said CTE programs are some of the most popular courses at the school.

“These are the classes that a lot of kids love and connect with,” Borgerding said. “They help students stay passionate about school.”

Bordering said that expanded vocational programs such as the ones at Churchill also offer an alternative to the traditional fouryear college path.

“As many kids that you have coming through the front door, you’re going to have that many outcomes for possible success,” Borgerding said. “For many kids it’s a traditional university track, but that’s not for every kid, and we’d be doing a disservice to kids who have a passion they’re trying to find a niche for if we assume they all wanted to go that route.”

Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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