An east San Gabriel Valley high school vocational program that has turned the tide for a number of students on the verge of dropping out of school has been recognized as the top vocational program in the Western United States by the U.S. Department of Education.
Enthusiasm, hard work and the involvement of professionals have always worked in the fashion merchandising classroom of the West Covina Regional Occupation Program, said Laurel Adler, superintendent/director of the program.
And now that combination has paid off in a big way.
The program, which serves 15 east San Gabriel Valley high schools in the West Covina, Covina, Baldwin Park, Azusa, Charter Oaks and Glendora districts, will receive the Secretary's Award for Outstanding Vocational-Technical Education Program for the Western United States, including Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Guam. Ten Secretary's Awards are given each year.
"The U.S. Department of Education award is a tribute not only to the East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program but to our community," Adler said.
Over the last four years, the two-year fashion merchandising program has attracted many students who were on the verge of dropping out of school or joining gangs, Adler said, and has given them a new outlook on staying in school.
The program, taught by Myrna Craig, instructs students in fashion design, merchandising and retail sales.
"We've had a real impact on the high school dropout rate. Of the kids who went through our two-year program, their dropout rate was only 3% to 5%. Statewide, the average is 30%," Adler said.
The fashion merchandising program emphasizes setting career goals and earning college credits, another reason cited by the awards panel for recognizing the program.
"We feel that if you get the kids interested early on and get them to set up a career goal and then they're earning college credit, that will affect their whole attitude on staying in school," Adler said.
High school students in the program can take up to eight units of college credit from Mt. San Antonio College, Los Angeles Trade and Technical College and Cal State L.A. Such an arrangement is rare for vocational programs, Adler said.
Most of all, the reason for the program's success is the high level of involvement between the teachers and the students, Adler said.
"There is constant reinforcement of success that has made a tremendous difference for these kids. We really care about them and I think that they know that," she said.
The teaching staff is committed to following up on each student and will go the extra mile to make sure that a student stays interested in the program, Adler said.
Students interviewed in a Times profile of the program in April used phrases such as "like a family" to describe it.
Craig, the founder of the program, was named the 1990 Outstanding Vocational Teacher in Los Angeles County.
The award, which is the first of its kind won by the east San Gabriel Valley program, will be presented by Deputy Secretary of Education Barry Stern at the fashion merchandising classroom in West Covina on Friday.