District amplifies career education classes

Inside a darkened classroom at Woodside High School, 18-year-old senior Sarita Barragan has her headphones on and her attention locked on the glowing screen of the brand new Apple iMac in front of her.

She silently navigates a digital music program, adding beats and a melody to create a Latin song that she says reflects her Mexican heritage.

Barragan knew as soon as she heard about the school’s new “audio production” class this fall that she had to sign up. “It’s a huge passion of mine,” she said. “It’s not just technology — I’m creating something.”

English teacher Geoff Diesel, who teaches the class, said it’s “mind-blowing” how engaged the students are — including some considered “at-risk” for their truancy or their grades. Plus, he said, they’re learning skills that they can use in the real world.

“When they get out of here, they’ll be employable, even before college,” said Diesel, a musician in his spare time who helped set up the class with $50,000 in bond money.

The class is part of a growing emphasis at Woodside and the three other high schools in the 8,200-student Sequoia Union High School District on career technical education. The courses focus on real-world career paths and are designed to benefit all students, regardless of whether they plan to go to college or enter the work force.

“I think the key to career technical education is it offers value to kids all along the spectrum of engagement and success in school,” said district Trustee Alan Sarver. “Even things like food services are not your grandmother’s vocational education. They are tied into the full curriculum and have a strong connection with business skills.”

The district has used millions from a recent $165 million bond measure to fund new buildings for the classes, which range from a biotechnology academy to a clothing and fashion class to cabinet-making.

Sitting next to a tomato plant at Woodside High’s garden, Eliana Sanchez, 16, helped her classmate fill a plastic test tube with soil and distilled water to test the soil’s chemical composition.

Sanchez wants to be a real estate agent or a fashion show organizer, but she signed up for the environmental chemistry class — part of the school’s “green academy” series of classes — because it piqued her interest. “I just thought it was just interesting to try something like this,” Sanchez said.

That introduction to new career fields is another major goal of CTE, said Woodside Principal David Reilly. Ninety percent of last year’s graduating class planned to go to college.

“They go through that process a little bit during high school so they come in more focused in college,” Reilly said.

 

Class completion

The district’s graduation rates for 2007-08, the most recent year available:

HIGH SCHOOL  
Carlmont 93.5%
Menlo-Atherton 84.4%
Redwood 60.1%
Sequoia Union 91.0%
Woodside 92.4%
   
DISTRICTWIDE  
San Mateo County 87.9%
Statewide 80.2%

Source: Sequoia Union High School District

 

Where the money goes

Among the spending from the $165 million Measure J bond:

Sequoia High School

  • $381,887 Career technical education
  • $2 million Biotech room renovation

Menlo-Atherton

  • $670,174 Career technical education

Carlmont

  • $690,032 CTE biotech building
  • $58,608 CTE child care
  • $18,786 CTE green tech

Woodside

  • $171,005 Career technical education

Sources: Measure J Bond Oversight Committee, Sequoia Union High School District

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