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Students Receive Lessons From Workplace

Education: Unusual program at Moorpark College is the subject of a major study and a recipient of federal funds to aid career training.


The 115 students who attend the High School at Moorpark College are accustomed to feeling part of something special. After all, it isn't every teenager who gets to spend his or her junior and senior years on a college campus attending classes that don't begin until noon.

So when their unusual school was selected recently as both a national demonstration site for making career development part of a secondary school curriculum and as the subject of a UC Berkeley research study, most students reacted with aplomb.

"They are used to the whole idea of being in the fishbowl, of having people come in and observe," said Principal Andi Mallen. "Teenagers can't see past Friday night, never mind two years from now. I don't think they quite understand what this means for us yet."

Moorpark College was one of nine community colleges in the nation and the only one in California to be awarded a three-year vocational education grant this year from the U.S. Department of Education. The $566,000 grant is being used at the college's 2-year-old alternative high school to build alliances with businesses and nonprofit agencies that are willing to provide internships, professional mentors, office tours and other lessons from the workplace.

The High School at Moorpark College is run jointly by the Moorpark Unified School District, Moorpark College and the community college district.

Judi Gould, the college's grant manager, said the pilot project is intended not only to help students set career goals but also to let them see that their studies have real-life applications. "We believe that having a link to the business community is critical ... in terms of helping them see the relevance of what they are doing and its importance to their studies," she said.

A team of researchers from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education will be testing the validity of that hypothesis. The researchers plan to track the high school students to evaluate whether the career-based instruction they receive has any bearing on their attitudes toward school and post-graduation success, said Victoria Bortolussi, a dean of student learning at Moorpark College.

Bortolussi said that in addition to paying for staff to cultivate business partnerships, the grant money will allow the college to infuse the high school's curriculum with work-related subject matter. The school's seniors, for example, will be required to complete a "career major" project combining their own research with classroom lessons and a 10-week field experience.

"We are basically looking to see if teaching in this way makes a difference," Bortolussi said. "Are students more engaged in the educational experience? Are they more successful in identifying and meeting their goals? A major piece of this grant is to be a model, so we want the model to be as experimental and creative as it can and be, measuring it along the way so we can tell people if this works, and if it does, how you can do it."

Three businesses--Maxon Computer, a Germany-based animation software company that has its North American headquarters in Newbury Park; the Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System; and the Diagnostic Imaging department of Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks--have pledged to be part of the program. An additional 31 local businesses have expressed interest, Gould said.

Paul Babb, president of Maxon USA, said his company employs about half a dozen Moorpark College students as interns each year and holds workshops and training courses at the college for students who are interested in digital arts. The new grant will formalize that relationship and possibly provide avenues for building on it, he said.

"It's been great for us because we have gotten some very talented people to work here who started out as Moorpark College interns," Babb said.

According to Gould, Moorpark College was chosen for the grant because of its on-site high school, which is designed to serve a handpicked group of "high-potential" students who may have struggled in traditional schools. At Moorpark, they take a combination of high school and community college classes and are afforded greater freedom to select their own schedules.

Another plus for the college in the grant competition was its four career-themed "institutes," which were established four years ago to give students a way of meeting their basic course requirements and job training goals simultaneously.

All Moorpark College students have the option of enrolling in one of the institutes--Health Sciences, Liberal Arts/Teaching, Media Arts/Technology and Business--and taking English, math and science courses that have been geared toward their career interests. Beginning in the fall, all of the high school's students, expected to be about 140 by then, will participate in the program.

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