YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Hands-On Experience Gives Students Leg Up

Education: School-to-career programs offer youths a taste of the working life while attending classes.


VENTURA — In the morning, 18-year-old Amber Jones attends senior-year classes at Buena High School. And in the afternoon, she works at Southern California Edison, building street lights, assembling fuse holders and filing circuit maps.

She is one of five local high school students participating in a school-to-career program at Edison's Ventura Service Center. Educators say the program--in its second year--gives students hands-on experience in the "real world" and prepares them for college or work. Amber says the program is helping her develop better job and personal skills.

"And the work's fun," she said. "I like building things and working with my hands. It's a great experience for me."

More students throughout Ventura County will have the opportunity to participate in similar school-to-career programs during the next three years, thanks to a $3-million federal grant for job training awarded to county schools late last year. The first $1 million, to be distributed this month, will be divided among five high schools, eight middle schools, 25 elementary schools and one community college.

Vocational programs sprouted up around California after President Clinton signed the federal School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994. The Ventura County superintendent of schools office applied for $500,000 in 1995, but the county school board rejected the grant.


Board members argued that there were enough vocational programs in the county, and that the new money would give federal lawmakers too much control over how students were educated. They said vocational programs decrease time spent on academics, discourage students from going to college and force students to choose a career at an early age.

But county schools Supt. Charles Weis sidestepped the opposition determining he had the legal authority to accept the money without board approval. But the state didn't approve the grant. So county school administrators reapplied in 1998, and were awarded $3 million, to be paid out during the next four years.

The grant will fund programs--such as job shadowing, internships and mentoring--that link classrooms with businesses. Schools that now offer internship and job programs will be able to expand them with new funding. The grant will also be used to pay for several school-based coordinators, who will organize career fairs and recruit companies.

Proponents say school-to-career programs introduce high school students to a variety of job options, prevent teens from dropping out of school and ease the transition to college. Lera St. Louis, school-to-career coordinator at Buena High School, said the programs complement academic programs and make learning relevant to students' daily lives.

"We're trying to show them that the subjects they're learning at school are relevant to the working world," St. Louis said. "It makes what we do at school more realistic for the kids."

She recalled a student in last year's Edison program who was having trouble in math. One afternoon he and his Edison mentor were calculating how much electricity the conductors could handle. "When somebody told him he was doing trigonometry, his mouth fell open," St. Louis said. After that, he asked his math teacher for extra help, she said.


This year's students work at Southern California Edison from 1 to 3:30 every afternoon from August to May, and can work eight-hour days during winter and spring break. Participants were chosen from a pool of about 40 students, recommended by school counselors.

The Buena and Ventura high school students rotate through Edison's payroll, field services, garage and mapping departments, working for $7.76 an hour. In addition to learning how to read meters, change oil and splice tubes, the students get a taste of the working world. In other words, they have to show up at work on time every day, arrange their own transportation and call in if they get sick.

"They have to work just like any other workers," said Dick White, Edison's general foreman of operations. "And it gives them a goal to shoot for--whether it's working here, working elsewhere or going to college."

The students who are chosen are often the ones who may not go on to college, White said. "So this is a learning opportunity for them that will help them decide if they want to go on to college or get a job," he said.

Buena also offers a work experience class for about 80 students, who can earn credits for holding part-time jobs. Teacher Greg Seward said students become more diligent about school once they start working.

"Some of the students were hanging on by a thread," Seward said. "It's because of the work experience that they will graduate."


Los Angeles Times Articles