New career and technical education program takes flight at Vale Middle School

Vale Middle School CTE teacher Zach Knapp works with students Teresa Gonzalez (left) and Bailey Blake as they study how to make a commercial using equipment for a new jobs program. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

VALE – An innovative career and technical education program at the Vale School District aims to introduce middle school students to a variety of potential occupations.

The career classes are focused on middle school students in Vale and Willowcreek and consist of 24 modules that run the gamut from automotive instruction to child care to marketing.

“They are in line with the high school CTE (career and technical education) program,” said Vale Middle School teacher Zach Knapp.

The district used state money – about $100,000 – to buy the equipment and implemented the 24-module program last fall.

“It is kind of a self-driven learning experience,” said Alicia McBride, Vale School District superintendent.

The program is part of a local and state effort to familiarize students with what was once considered non-traditional education fields such as electronics, forensic science and culinary arts.

The program helps give middle school students an advantage when they move on to high school and ponder what type of career and technical education program they want to select.

“What we found was students entering high school and registering for their high school electives didn’t always have a clear idea what pathway they might want to go down. They might not have experience in the agriculture department or automotive technology,” said McBride.

The goal, said McBride, is to put students on a smooth career and technical education path early.

“Some of our students wouldn’t really find a way in the CTE program if they didn’t have that background information until they were sophomores or juniors. So, our goal was to provide students with experience with different careers that are connected to different CTE programs,” said McBride.

The program is divided into two sections. One section is internet based, where students log on to a website and learn about a specific career such as automotive repair.

The second part of the program is hands on, where students in a career exploration class apply what they learned at various stations such as nursing.

Each module is 10 days. Once a student enters a program – such as flight and drone technology – they take two tests as part of the internet portion. The scores on the tests are part of their final grade, said Knapp.

One recent week, students in Knapp’s class at Vale Middle School were busy at different stations applying what they learned online.

Knapp’s class featured stations such as introduction to child development, the environment and ecology, home maintenance, nursing, design and marketing, digital audio production, carpentry and occupational health and safety.

One station, for example, offered four working Briggs and Stratton to help teach students about small engine repair and maintenance.

Through the semester the students go from one station to another, applying the skills they’ve learned.

“It’s a great balance of industry knowledge but also fun,” said Knapp.

In one corner of Knapp’s classroom a group of students worked to create a movie trailer and across the room a student used a carpentry level on a two-by-four as part of a home improvement project.

Another station offered experience with basic nursing skills. At the child care station, two baby dolls are used to teach students how to change diapers and swaddle an infant.

In the design and marketing station section, students learn to make logos or clothes.

Having the necessary equipment on hand helps the realism of what students learn.

The nurse’s station, for example, had blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes while at the digital audio production station, students used cameras and laptops to make a movie trailer.

Across the room, Knapp helped Shane Cannizzaro fit into a safety harness as part of the construction module.

“By the end of two years, every seventh and eighth grader has the opportunity to experience the modules,” said Knapp.

The class is a success, according to Knapp’s students.

“I think the activities are fun,” said eighth-grade student Teresa Gonzalez.

Classmate Adam Braniff said that “some of my friends recommended the class and I’ve learned a lot, definitely.”

McBride said the program is about preparing students for the future.

“Obviously a student’s career path isn’t set in stone but we want our students to be aware of the opportunities they have available to them. By incorporating this into the seventh and eighth grade, students can start to explore different career options,” said McBride.

The focus in education has changed, said McBride.

“Ten to 20 years ago the emphasis was you have to go to college. But now there is such a shortage of highly-qualified individuals to enter the workforce,” said McBride. “I know, at least, locally, many of our employers are looking for industry certified individuals who have the skills to enter the workforce as soon as they graduate from high school.”

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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