Giving students more options

Group looks at regional collaborations for vocational training

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The idea of pooling resources at high schools in Routt and Moffat counties to offer students a wider range of vocational classes has a great deal of local support.

A diverse group of about 30 people met Monday to discuss the idea by reviewing career and technology options at area high schools and then brainstorm potential advantages and obstacles involved with making those options available to students of different school districts.

"The purpose here is to give an overview of what's happening in our valley," said Jane Bohart, a former educator acting as facilitator for the group.

Held during lunch in the Steamboat Pilot & Today conference room, the meeting was the first of several for the group that includes superintendents and administrators from school districts in Steamboat Springs, Hayden, South Routt and Moffat County; representatives from local business organizations including the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, Colorado Workforce Center and The Industrial Company; officials with the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County; and administrators with Colorado Mountain College and Colorado Northwest Community College.

"When you look at career and technology education, you need a number of partners," said Donna Howell, superintendent of the Steamboat Springs School District. "We may be at a point in time where the energy exists to take a real solid look at the potential for growth."

Yampa Valley high schools have a solid career and technology foundation to build on.

Gayle Dudley, a career counselor at Steamboat Springs High School, said the high school offers business, computer and engineering classes. Two new classes, medical preparation and design technology, will be added next year.

James Chamberlin, principal of South Routt High School and South Routt Middle School, said about one-fourth of the 135 students at the high school participate in a vocational agriculture program. Although he described the school's vocational business program as "in transition," Chamberlin said classes such as computer applications and accounting are offered to South Routt students.

Kevin Kleckler listed numerous vocational classes at Hayden High School, where he is a teacher. Hayden has classes in recreation management, business, welding, auto mechanics, cabinet making and computer certification. Next year, Kleckler said, the school may collaborate with local businesses to offer classes in diesel technology and sports vehicle mechanics.

"The major focus in the Hayden School District is the hands-on, technical stuff for trade work," Hayden High School Principal Troy Zabel said. "There's a very high demand not only with our students but also with community members."

Rose Siminoe of Moffat County High School in Craig said the school offers classes in accounting, business law, computer applications, culinary arts and early childhood development, in addition to a cosmetology course offered through the Craig campus of Colorado Northwest Community College.

Group members said giving students from all four high schools access to all or some of those classes, in addition to vocational classes at local community colleges, would create a variety. Advantages of regionalized vocational programs, the group said, could include saving schools money by sharing classes, engaging disinterested students and encouraging local employment for non-college-bound graduates.

"If we pool all of our re----sources, we'll have more happily employed, stable graduates," said Ann Sims, director of curriculum and instruction for the Steamboat Springs School Dist--rict.

Implementing such a plan would not be easy. Members listed numerous obstacles, such as scheduling, long trips during the school day on uncertain road conditions, funding across school districts, social interaction among students of different schools and even school "territorialism," or pride.

But the primary focus of Monday's meeting was to gauge interest, not address problems, and interest was abundant.

"I'm seeing a lot more 'yes' than 'no,'" Bohart said after asking for a nod or shake of the head about the feasibility of the group moving forward.

"This is exciting stuff," said group member Rick Bettger, a former vocational educator.

The group has scheduled meetings for March 15, April 17 and May 15.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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