The 80 students who study work experience under career counselor Barney Davis at Point Loma High School consider his classes a godsend.
The once-a-week course enables them to satisfy the school district's graduation requirements that all students take a sixth course each semester, while freeing them all other days to go to their part-time jobs early.
Increasingly, high school students try to balance schoolwork with a paying job, and about 3,000 high school-age students from throughout the district take work-experience courses as a way to learn about the job world while at the same time gaining more time for work.
Because the classes are oversubscribed, however, almost 8,000 more students--900 at Point Loma alone--simply apply to their career counselors for the work permits required of minors before they can hold down a job. And district officials estimate that an additional 1,000 or more work without bothering to get the permits, either because their employers don't require them or because the students are paid in cash.
Districtwide, nearly 50% of all students eligible to work have jobs.
But now, many working students and their career counselors see a push toward more college preparatory classes and stiffer graduation requirements as a threat to their ability to both handle a job and stay in school.
The school board is considering a proposal by board members Jim Roache and Dorothy Smith to require all students to satisfy a college-preparatory curriculum that includes algebra, foreign languages and science, reducing the choices of elective courses such as work experience and industrial-vocational arts.
At schools such as Memorial Junior High in Logan Heights, vocational classes are being eliminated as a vigorous academic program is put into effect in September for all students. The program is a way to improve basic skills at the predominantly minority school and boost college chances for many more students.
In budget cuts earlier this year, the board eliminated two career counseling positions and one vocational rehabilitation counseling slot, leaving only 12 career counselors, including Davis, available next September. The counselors work not only with those students needing guidance about part-time work, but also with many others wanting information about colleges and career opportunities.
The staff cutbacks put the pupil-counselor ratio at more than 200 to 1, a figure greater than the state Department of Education's guidelines for no more than a 125-to-1 ratio.
"I think the philosophy (of requiring more graduation credits and more academic requirements) is an elitist one that caters to maybe the 25% of those kids who will go on and graduate from college," Davis said in an interview.
"How is a kid already struggling with (academics) going to handle that?" Davis asked. "(If) you make it tougher, more kids will drop out because they can't see the relevance of more courses to their careers, of how (the courses) will help them learn how to do a job."
He added: "Most kids go to work after graduating (from) high school, and employers are tired of the old 'no experience' situation. They want kids who have hands-on training and . . . who have gone through some sort of work experience."
Board member Roache expressed disappointment at the initial reaction to the proposal, which will go before the board for action on June 17.
"I'm aware the vast majority of students today are not intending to go on to college," he said. "But given the tremendous changes taking place in knowledge and technology today, people may have to go to college in the future for new skills.
"Just look at auto repair. When I took it, you learned about taking carburetors apart. Now you need to understand computers and similar technology.
"I think I have an obligation to give students a solid core of fundamentals."
Called Narrow Approach
But Morris Jones, vice president of the San Diego Federation of Teachers and a former teacher, has written the board that the curriculum proposal "tends to set one goal for all students, attempts to force all students into one mold, and can only increase frustration of students from low to above-average ability."
Jones' letter reflected comments to the board in 1985 by the district's vocational education staff when the national trend toward tougher courses was gathering steam locally.
"The nationwide reform movement may have taken too narrow a view of educational quality, as most of the reports and studies have begun from a basic assumption that the best preparation for college is also the best preparation for life," the comments included. "Unfortunately, more is not necessarily better, and academic excellence should not be achieved at the expense of meeting all students' needs."