Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Training for Life
By Andrea Schoellkopf
Journal Staff Writer
Each morning, Toni Romero is at Rio Grande High learning her reading, writing and math, in addition to AP Biology.
But in the afternoons twice a week, she's learning about hair color, scalp treatments, setting perms and manicures.
It's that class, which the high school junior takes through the Albuquerque Public Schools Career Enrichment Center, that she feels is most relevant in her pursuit of a cosmetology career.
"I never thought I'd be able to take it as a class," said Romero, 17.
Faced with high dropout rates, low graduation rates and students who aren't proficient in the basics, the state Public Education Department has been beefing up graduation requirements with four years each of math, science, social students and language arts, and remedial classes for students who aren't proficient in reading or math.
Still, there are many students who dream of technical schools and beauty colleges rather than ivy-covered lecture halls, football games and Greek life.
Steve Dolch, who teaches architecture construction classes at the career center, said the trades classes are "very limited" and should be expanded.
"It's stuff you don't learn from books," said Paul Trujillo, a junior at the APS magnet school Early College Academy who is taking an architecture and construction class at Career Enrichment Center in preparation for construction industry work. "You learn from experience."
Trujillo, who wants to go into carpentry at Central New Mexico Community College, says eventually he would like to take over his grandfather's construction and demolition business.
Like sports, electives are seen as part of the lure that keeps students interested in school.
Cosmetology teachers at the career center hear students say the only thing that keeps them going to school is knowing they could no longer go to cosmetology class if they dropped out.
"These kids have dreams," said Clarabelle Hern, one of the three cosmetology instructors. "They want to go out and work. You can't create a one-size-fits-all."
Carl Glaspie, an 18-year-old Cibola High senior, wants to be a diesel technician. Without his automotive classes, he said, he wouldn't find high school as interesting. "I wouldn't be as motivated," he said.
The regular classes are "not my favorite classes," but in order to get into an automotive school he'll need a high school diploma first.
Students must perform well at their high school before they can take electives at the Career Enrichment Center.
APS Superintendent Winston Brooks said he sees a need to offer classes for kids who are not college-bound. Unfortunately, the focus and money right now must go toward beefing up the high school curriculum, he said.
"It's our responsibility (that) they're college-ready," Brooks said. "... It's our job to prepare them."
And while schools say they would like to offer trades courses, many simply can't because there are no available instructors.
"One of the problems we run into ... is there are very few colleges producing wood shop teachers or metal shop teachers," CEC principal Scott Elder said. "Quite frankly, if you have those skills, you go into the field. I'm not sure that we're financially competitive."
Valley High principal Anthony Griego had to drop his school's auto shop a few years ago when his longtime teacher retired and he couldn't find a replacement.
When he tried to start the program up again, Valley couldn't afford the costs of equipping a modern auto-shop classroom.
For many Albuquerque schools, the solution is sending kids to the career center, which is next to Albuquerque High. It draws from throughout the district, so there are enough students to fill low-demand classes, such as Japanese, AP physics or the nursing program from which seniors graduate as a licensed practical nurse.
The center also houses the district's nationally certified automotive program.
Cost is also a factor in providing such classes at the high schools.
"Programs like these are expensive," said Mark Mulroy, who teaches automotive at Career Enrichment Center.
Mulroy's students participate nationally in competitions sponsored by Ford and other companies. He says his students are heavily recruited for training programs in the automotive industry, and sometimes in aviation. He knows exactly who ends up in what training program, whether it be Arizona, Wyoming, Denver or Maryland, and has seen college-bound seniors visit him later from a trade school because they had changed their minds.
Tony Monfiletto, founder of the Amy Biehl Charter School, is planning to open a new school this fall that will prepare students for the construction field.
Partnering with the Associated General Contractors, Monfiletto said there's a demand for students who have been trained, as well as classes for students who want to buck the traditional format.
"The need is apparent by the fact that we had so many kids that are disengaged from high school," he said. Construction-related teaching will occur all day long, even in English and math, where American literature may be approached from the perspective of period architecture, for instance.