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House site reflects career education

Student work in Oregon spurs national effort.


KEIZER — Work by high school students will not only give them construction experience and a deserving family a new home, it also will spur a national effort to reintroduce career skills into America's classrooms.

"You are exactly what we want to bring to every community in the country," said Brad Avakian, who as Oregon labor commissioner has led such an effort statewide.

Avakian and others were looking at a four-bedroom, 1,240-square-foot house underway by students in a construction technology class at McKay High School in Salem in cooperation with the Salem affiliate of Habitat for Humanity.

Construction technology is among the offerings in career and technical education by the Salem-Keizer School District, one of many that have benefited from grants initiated by Avakian and the Oregon Legislature. From their start in 2011, $14 million in grants have helped restart such programs in more than 200 middle and high schools across Oregon.

"What you are doing here is a model for what we want to bring to every student," Avakian said.

The grants are administered by the Bureau of Labor and Industries, which is led by Avakian, and the Department of Education.

Now U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., would like to replicate that grant program in other states. He will introduce congressional legislation, which would authorize a two-year pilot project requiring matches from schools, industry or unions. Schrader said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., is willing to advance similar legislation in that chamber.

Schrader said there is a need for such education, because many career and technical programs have gone by the wayside, not everyone goes to college, "and a lot of people are retiring from those jobs."

In addition to work skills for a specific job, he said, "you know how to work, and you know how to discipline yourselves."

Although commonly thought of as "shop" classes, Avakian said career and technical education extends to business, computers, health and other fields. Beaverton High School, he said, offers a biomedical course.

Close to half of the 10,000 Salem-Keizer students were enrolled in a career/technical education course before the district was forced to cut 20 such teachers in 2011. But the total exceeds 40 percent.

The graduation rate for district students enrolled in such courses was 91 percent in 2012-13, compared with the overall district average of 72 percent. The comparable statewide rates were 90 percent and 67 percent.

Graduation rates for minority students enrolled in such courses in Salem-Keizer far exceeded district averages.

Kerry Green, McKay construction technology teacher, said students must meet several prerequisite courses before they can take part. Some of them require math and science.

"This is the elite," he said.

Before he went to college, and eventually became executive director of Salem's Habitat for Humanity, Jerry Ambris took part in a welding program at Woodburn High School in 2000.

"It kept me off the streets from gang-banging and selling drugs — and in Woodburn, that is huge," Ambris said.

Electrical and plumbing work are off-limits to the students, although Habitat for Humanity can acquire that help from professional apprenticeship programs.

Still, he said, without the help of the high school students in framing and cabinetry, "we would be paying top dollar."

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