Volume XV | Issue 2 | Fall 2015
Reedsport High School students Mitchell Wallace and Jacob Mast construct a flooring unit during a career and technical education class. Photo: Guy Marchione

Ready to work when they graduate

Reedsport High School program teams up with skilled trades

When Guy Marchione quit his job as an electrician to become a shop teacher at Reedsport High School, he liked everything about his new job — except one thing. Every year, he watched talented students graduate, then flounder when it came time to find a job.

some of my kids could actually run shops

“As shop teachers, we teach kids all the skills they need,” he says reflectively, “and then when they graduate, we shake their hands and wave goodbye. Some of my kids could actually run shops. They are great kids, but they don’t know what they need to do to get a job.”

Marchione decided his students needed the kind of support their friends who were headed to college got — targeted, with one-on-one preparation, practice and training. Instead of general shop classes that taught basic construction skills, students needed specialized training that would prepare them for entry into skilled trades — electricians, heavy equipment operations, and surveying, for example. And, after conversations with industry and education officials and a summer of grant writing, that’s what he got. 

Armed with a state $250,000 Career and Technical Education Revitalization grant, Marchione went to representatives of the skilled trades and made his pitch: Tell me what I need to buy to train these kids and help me do it so they are ready to work with you when they graduate.  

Rural challenges

Rural schools face special challenges when it comes to teaching specialized CTE skills, from a lack of qualified teachers to insufficient courses to meet the varied career interests of students. The Ford Family Foundation recognizes the value of a robust CTE curriculum in rural areas, recently funding a multi-agency program in Malheur County. The program enables youth to work full time toward their high school diploma, receive job skills training, inspiration, and develop a sense of self-worth. 

In Reedsport, Marchione removed barriers by involving the local trades with providing skilled instruction. Students interested in becoming electricians, for example, can follow a curriculum based on the actual needs of the career, as defined by local skilled tradesmen. They take classes, many of them taught by local electricians, to help them prepare for acceptance into the competitive apprenticeship program. Classes include OSHA-required training, such as CPR and first-aid instruction, and training in basic electrical theory and skills, such as bending electrical wiring. 

“We then expanded to other trades, and now we have a deal with heavy equipment operators and surveyors as well,” Marchione says. 

Marchione has big plans for the future of the program at Reedsport, pending acceptance of a follow-up grant proposal to the state. His first priority is with communication. “We need to do a much better job of getting information out to the public, not just in Reedsport but in North Bend and surrounding areas. We are not making the impact we could be.”

He also has plans to develop an academic intervention program to ensure that his students have the credits and GPA to graduate. “We need to make this area stronger and develop a strategy to keep it going when the grant money goes away,” he says. 

Finally, he is actively working to expand opportunities for students. For example, he wants to include such industries as marine fabrication.

“All my kids have jobs, all those that want them,” Marchione says. 

Career and technical education programs have been proven to keep students engaged in school and boost graduation rates. Marchione is pleased to notice that it also gives students a concrete stake in their own education. “If you have to earn the money, you are a lot more respectful of what you have,” he says. His students practice their skills by making custom items for sale to the community, including trailers, log splitters, even portable buildings.

“When they earn money for ladders, they make sure the ladders are put away at the end of the day,” Marchione says. “We used to have to lock everything up because kids would steal stuff from the shop. Now, everything is open.”

Demand for skilled workers prompts career education

Oregon public schools have cut the number of career and technical education programs nearly in half over the last 15 years, at a time when the demand for skilled workers is rising. 

The state of Oregon is bridging that gap through initiatives such as the CTE Revitalization Grant, which was launched in 2011. Almost $11 million was awarded in the last grant cycle to districts across the state. The 24 grants, awarded for the 2013-2015 biennium, benefit 140 schools across Oregon with programs ranging from agricultural sciences to manufacturing, marketing to engineering, building and construction trades to culinary arts.

The grants, administered by the Department of Education and Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, are designed to act as seed money to help engage local businesses as partners and leverage more funding. 

The Ford Family Foundation has long supported education for young people in rural communities in Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif. In addition to scholarships, the Foundation is exploring a new priority area focused on preparing rural young people for careers in their communities. 

The research has focused on opportunities tied to awareness and exploration of rural careers, engagement and education for young people, and connections to work-based learning experiences in partnership with industry and community resources. The Foundation plans to announce funding guidelines for the new program in early 2016.  

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