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Redesign leaves Benson students out in the cold

My View • What choice? Board's decision dulls the magnet approach for career programs
by: Tribune File Photo, Students team up to lift a transmission into place in Benson Polytechnic High School’s automotive shop in 2008. The  proposed high school redesign plan would convert Benson to a two-year, half-day vocational program starting in 2011. The school board votes on the plan in June. 

I am a manufacturing major at Benson Polytechnic High School. It was recently announced to teachers to be prepared for the Portland Public Schools board meeting on Monday night (Benson, Marshall face big changes in high school plan, April 26), as a proposal was made to restructure Benson into a two-year, half-day high school where students would be bused in from their home schools during the day to participate in the various career technical education programs offered.

As a junior at Benson, I have learned my basic 'every high school teaches this' skills - such as English, algebra, geometry, U.S. history and social studies. But I also have been taught things that not every student in the PPS district is fortunate enough to have taught to them: I have learned to operate a lathe, cast a mold in foundries, run a Computer Numerical Control machine, weld and run other large machines.

My classmates and I have also had the opportunity to gain on-the-job experience by applying for internships with companies such as Gunderson's and Columbia Wire and Iron. I recently applied to earn 16 college credits in Computer Numerical Control and various types of welding.

Just two weeks ago, my classmates participated in the Skills USA competition, held in Albany, taking home many gold, silver and bronze medals for the work we do here at Benson.

While manufacturing is my major and favorite class, there are many other important major areas being taught. Health occupations is one of the largest majors at Benson. It is a complete four-year class starting out with the basics freshman year and slowly moving into the more advanced aspects of the health care profession.

A student cannot join the program without having started it as a freshman. Sophomores are able to participate in Health Occupations Students of America National Leadership Conference, which is another competition where Benson students take home many gold, silver and bronze medals. Moving into junior year, students begin volunteer services at local health care facilities, gaining hands-on experience in the medical field of their choice.

Other majors at Benson include: radio broadcasting, building construction, computer technologies/electric, drafting (which unfortunately will be canceled next school year) and communications technologies.

Taking away choices

While looking on the Internet for further information about (the high school redesign), I happened upon this quote: 'District leaders say they must redesign the high school system because of mixed academic results, unequal access to rigorous classes and declining enrollment.'

Benson is a magnet school, meaning it has no 'neighborhood.' Instead, students choose to come to Benson for the programs it offers. Students choose Benson because they want to have a career in those areas.

Students are given a choice when coming out of middle school: They may either stay with their neighborhood high school, or apply to a separate high school, such as Benson.

If a student chooses to attend a school other than Benson, knowing what classes they offer and the future they want for themselves, then that is their choice.

In my eyes, this is a fair and equal deal.

Not every school building in Portland has the structures, space and trained teachers to teach the programs offered. Benson was created in 1912 to train our future manufacturers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers (no longer offered), and keep America working. As the computer age advanced, so too has Benson.

As a student here, I have made many friends with lower classmen who will be greatly affected by this change. My brother is now a freshman and plans to also major in manufacturing, but Benson's (redesign) changes will occur the year he begins his full major class as a junior. This will take away his and other students' opportunities to be a skilled craftsman in his chosen area.

After choosing to attend this high school rather than a different one, after going through every class needed to be in a certain major, after all the hard work and dedication it has taken students and teachers to make it as far as they have today at Benson, it can all be taken away by a vote of people who may not have even gone to this school or know anything about the true Benson spirit?

In my opinion, it seems that this is 'unequal access to rigorous classes' and is unfair to the students who worked so hard for his or her school.

Every year, Benson hosts an open house called the Tech Show. All our students put together a show to support our school and showcase our talents. I invite every member of the PPS school board to visit our Tech Show on Thursday, April 29, and Friday, April 30, 6:30 to 9 p.m. both days, to see the school you will be changing, to see the students working in the areas they love, and see how proud we are to be students at Benson Polytechnic High School.

Nicole Sandall is a junior at Benson High School, majoring in manufacturing. She lives in Southeast Portland.