Career pathways help North Clackamas students find routes to success
Clackamas High School senior Jeremy Morales said the first time he aligned a car it was confusing but after a few tries, he thought, “Why was this confusing?” North Clackamas School District has helped Morales find a career path, and he says that has kept him in school. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
As a Clackamas High School freshman, Jeremy Morales hated school. His grades were bad, he missed school when he could, and he had no real expectation of graduating.
But he had an interest in cars, and the North Clackamas School District offered a career pathway in automotive service technology. He signed up and discovered a passion that could lead to a good career and a teacher/mentor who pushed him to succeed in all his classes.
Four years later, Morales has more than enough credits to graduate. He plans to attend Clark College in Vancouver to further his automotive education and has a job with Toyota lined up to coincide with his studies.
“This class is probably the reason I am still in high school,” Morales said. “I don’t know what I would want to do in life without this program.”
For 2016-17, the North Clackamas School District achieved an 84.1 percent graduation rate, 18 percentage points above its 2010-11 rate. The state graduation rate for last school year was 76.7 percent. District officials credit an extensive career and technical education program for helping raise graduation rates.
At North Clackamas, students who took a CTE class had an 89.9 percent graduation rate and students with at least two full years in a CTE course of study had a 92.6 percent graduation rate.
Districts across Oregon have recognized the power of CTE courses to keep students engaged and on the path to graduation. North Clackamas, which serves more than 17,000 students in Southeast Portland communities, has collected all its career and technical education at its Sabin-Schellenberg Professional Technical Center. Combining students from all North Clackamas’ schools allows the center to deliver programs that a single high school couldn’t support.
The district offers 17 career pathways, series of related courses that delve into different work fields. All pathways are aligned with post-secondary courses, and students can try courses in multiple pathways or stick to just one and go deeper. Students take core classes in their regular high schools and attend Sabin-Schellenberg usually for one or two periods.
The CTE center’s elective class schedule is shared with all high schools, and the district’s three comprehensive high schools align with Sabin-Schellenberg’s bell schedule, so students don’t lose class time if they go to the CTE campus. North Clackamas will bus any student coming to the campus from another school any period of the day.
“It’s just like walking down the hallway,” said Sabin-Schellenberg Principal Karen Phillips.
The program is set up with the expectation that CTE courses are meant for everyone, whether a student plans to start a career right after high school or go on to graduate-level studies or doesn’t know yet what he or she wants to do. About three-quarters of North Clackamas students take at least one CTE class.
“North Clackamas has systematically removed the barriers for every student in North Clackamas to get here,” Phillips said.
On a recent March day, students moved about a room at the center packed with machines that press, grind, cut and shape. Milwaukie High senior Matthew Taylor programmed an industry-grade machine to transform a block of aluminum into an intricate shape.
Taylor plans to join the Marines after graduation to become an aviation mechanic. He took the manufacturing and engineering class because it sounded interesting.
“It gives you something to do other than sit at a desk all day,” he said.
Riley Crosby, a Rex Putnam sophomore, worked at a design program on a computer next door. He doesn’t know what he wants to do after he graduates, but he says the manufacturing and engineering class plays “a pretty big role” in keeping him coming to school.
“It’s more of a hands-on type of thing,” he said. “I feel like what I learn will apply more for getting a job than the core classes.”
The center’s two campuses look like community colleges, with an industrial kitchen, a studio with a green-screen set, machine shops, working salon, full sets of firefighting equipment as well as two firetrucks and more. Students move between classrooms, work areas, and retail spaces such as the deli or the auto garage where they serve customers.
The 17 career pathways introduce students to dozens of potential professions, some they didn’t even know existed. For instance, a student might enter the early learning pathway with an interest in teaching and discover careers in research, psychology or counseling.
Kayla Coyne, a Clackamas High School senior, is in her second year of architecture and design.
“I wanted to see if it was actually something I wanted to go to college for instead of going in blind,” she said. The classroom looks like an architecture school studio, with students’ models, drawings and creations along every wall.
“It’s not just hypothetical,” Coyne said. “You have proof you are growing and learning.”
Coyne has applied to the University of Oregon School of Architecture, but she has also learned she likes design. She says it gives her something to fall back on if architecture doesn’t work out.
Administrators and teachers say the classes have value as well in helping students discover they don’t like a career before investing thousands of dollars in college or training.
Architecture teacher Robert Parker has tried to make his class comparable to when he was in architecture school. Students learn technical skills through larger design projects, from creating furniture to designing affordable housing. He also lets them know that being an architect doesn’t always mean designing buildings.
“Sometimes the best thing you can do for them is show them what the career really entails,” he said.
Clackamas High School senior Kayla Coyne (left) helps Clackamas junior June Bee with a project in their architecture and design class. North Clackamas School District career and technical education programs try to give students a real taste of what a career might be like. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
June Bee, a junior at Clackamas, was in a career pathway coding class last year and she hated it. This year she tried the architecture and design class.
“I never did anything like this, and now I’m doing it,” she said, as a machine cut pieces of wood for her design project, a hint of smoke in the air.
Phillips says one of the benefits of CTE is that students can see themselves gaining skills in a way not always visible in core classes. That growth translates into all their work.
“They get confident as learners,” she said.
Every program has a business advisory group that reviews curriculum and equipment to make sure the programs are teaching authentic skills that students would use in the workplace. The advisory groups ensure that as industries change, the course offerings change with them.
Teachers also work to instill the “soft skills” employers expect, such as attendance, productivity and teamwork.
Morales lights up when he talks about his automotive classes, whether it is his skill with the alignment computer or putting an engine in his own car. He’s confident in his abilities, and he thinks he’s on a path to a great future, a path he didn’t see before setting foot on the Sabin-Schellenberg campus.
“I always saw cars as a hobby,” he said, “not as a career.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
All McMinnville teaching staff and administrators are trained on the same methods and then become the trainers for the rest of the district.
The McMinnville School District offers pre-kindergarten and a program designed for parents of children from birth to age 5.
McMinnville staff want all parents to be able to access the system and fully understand its requirements and rewards.
Career and technical education is a big part of McMinnville’s strategy for helping students graduate.