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Students opt for career training

College of the Canyons offers 'applied academics' programs

Posted: January 30, 2009 9:51 p.m.
Updated: January 31, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Brennon Viera, a Saugus High School junior, is working on a scale-model house in between projects in his woodshop class.

 
In an increasingly depressing economy for jobseekers, career-technical classes at local schools can give Santa Clarita Valley students an edge in a tough job market.

"In this economy, these current technical education programs are what's going to help people sustain themselves," said Audrey Green, dean of program development at College of the Canyons.

The college offers more than 30 career-technical programs.

Nursing, computer information technology, culinary, welding and automotive classes are in high demand, Green said.

The types of students taking career courses range from younger college students, to re-entry students and older adults, but their goals are all the same.

"They are looking for skills that are going to give them entry into the job market," Green said.

The college works with William S. Hart Union High School District officials to create a link between the Hart district's Regional Occupational Program and the community college, Green said.

Saugus High School woodworking teacher Leonard Friedman's teaching style, known as "applied academics," gives his students theories and hands-on skills from the classroom they can use to get a job.

Friedman's students focus on all aspects of making a project out of wood - from design to execution.

Measurements, fractions, geometry, multiplication and division are required skills to take the concept of a scale-model house to reality.

The students also spend time outside of the wood shop taking quizzes, Friedman said.

"The goal is not for them to be standard woodworkers," Friedman said.

The use of "applied academics" in the classroom connects to Saugus High School juniors Brennon Viera and John Jacobson, who always had an interest in making things by hand.

So the two brought their interests to the high school's woodworking class and began making everyday projects, from book shelves to small boxes.

They liked the class so much they continued taking it every semester.

"He's taught me more stuff that I'll use in real life," Viera said.

The skills evolved and the two teens undertook complex projects. Jacobson recently finished a cabinet for his mother and Viera spends his time working on a desktop-size scale model house.

"She couldn't believe that I was able to build something like this," Jacobson said of the roughly three-foot-tall cabinet.

His skills even impressed him.

"I didn't think it would turn out that nice," Jacobson said.

Viera has yet to decide his career plans, but wants to focus on animal care or woodworking.

Jacobson wants to turn his woodworking skills into a career by working as a set builder for Universal Studios.

Picking up the "applied academics" skills benefit students in a rough economy.

"It makes you stand out in the job market," Saugus counselor Marty Fricke said.

In many instances, having the experience and certifications allows his students to command higher-paying jobs, Friedman said.

Despite the projected state deficit, an emphasis on the career-tech path remains, Fricke said.

That emphasis is evident by the Hart district's popular Regional Occupational Program, known as ROP, which serves 2,000 Hart district juniors and seniors annually.

"It gives the actual hands-on relevance part," said Ron Rudzinski, the Hart district's coordinator for technical education and workforce preparation.

The classes range from animal care to culinary arts; plumbing to retailing.

"The good piece of career-technical education classes is that they provide the applied use of academics," Rudzinski said.

Students who successfully complete ROP classes receive certificates, which become resume boosters and ways to show potential employers their skills.

Students who don't want to go straight into work, can take their high school ROP skills to places like College of the Canyons for certification programs and an associate's degree, Rudzinski said.

College of the Canyons accepts roughly 60 percent of Hart district graduates, college spokeswoman Sue Bozman said.

The career-tech path gives students another option after college.

"If you want to be a plumber, you don't have to go to college," Rudzinski said. "It's not like everybody's going to go into the same thing."

Recognizing the need for vocational and technical classes, Saugus High School plans to offer a home construction program for the 2009-10 school year, Saugus Principal Bill Bolde said.

The hope would be to partner with the nonprofit home-building organization Habitat for Humanity, allowing students to build parts of a home on the school campus, transport the pieces to a piece of land, and rebuild the home for a family.

"Career tech education provides the relevance," Rudzinski said. "When you can't see the reasons, it makes it less motivational."

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