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Vocational pre-apprenticeship at Kennedy

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  • c_travlos
    From today s West County Times. Cathy Posted on Mon, Sep. 27, 2004 Vocational pre-apprenticeship builds teenagers confidence By Jackie Burrell CONTRA COSTA
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 27, 2004
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      From today's West County Times.

      Posted on Mon, Sep. 27, 2004

      Vocational pre-apprenticeship builds teenagers' confidence

      By Jackie Burrell


      RICHMOND - The smell of fresh sawdust and the whine of buzz saws fill
      the air at Richmond's Kennedy High School. This may be wood shop, but
      it's no make-your-mom-a-breadboard class.

      Teacher Mary Gaddis rolls up her plaid work shirt's sleeves and waves
      her students over to the butcher-block workstations for a lesson on
      bevel, miter and rip cuts.

      "Yo, yo, yo, listen up!" she hollers, as students gather around.

      By the time she's done with these kids, they will be ready to enter
      professional apprenticeships -- or to fix their own homes. With help
      from Richmond's building-trade unions, Kennedy High's run-down wood
      shop has been reincarnated as a training ground for tomorrow's
      contractors, carpenters and plumbers. The unions set up the equipment,
      but it is Gaddis, a longtime adult education teacher, who brings
      drywall, plumbing and carpentry to life.

      This pre-apprenticeship class is part of a new vocational education
      movement, which pulls businesses, communities and schools into
      large-scale partnerships, all aimed at preparing students for life
      beyond the diploma.

      Rather than tracking kids into college prep or traditional trade
      skills, this hybrid approach, used in Richmond's wood shop, Mt.
      Diablo's biotechnology classes, Antioch's health classes and Alameda's
      food-service classes, is light years beyond the home ec and shop
      courses of yore. In the John Swett district, business and labor
      agencies funded the high school's six career academies, which are
      training students in everything from refinery pipefitting to water

      "It takes what was vocational education, integrates it with academics
      and raises the bar," said Louise Barbee, program coordinator for the
      Contra Costa Office of Education. "It breaks down the walls of the
      school and makes it real, gets kids face-to-face with people in the

      Those connections can infuse classrooms with energy and equipment,
      said Barbee. Contra Costa's Business and Education Collaborative
      represents high-tech, health services and other local industries,
      which offer expertise and supplies to local schools.

      In July, collaborative partners Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, BioRad,
      John Muir Medical Center and the Joint Genome Institute helped support
      a countywide summer biotech camp for teens.

      A similar industry-school partnership pairs Oakland International
      Airport with high school students in food services courses. Castlemont
      High School teens have operated a coffee cart in Terminal 1 since
      1996. Alameda high school students joined the espresso trade in
      Terminal 2 just last year, getting a crash course in business plans
      and health permits in the process.

      The training goes far beyond froth and beans, said Alameda voc-ed
      teacher Mark McKee. This "real world lesson" includes bookkeeping and
      customer relations.

      "They get paid, they get credits, and they get connections with the
      world of work," he said.

      At Richmond's Kennedy High, the woodshop is bustling for the first
      time in years. Contra Costa's Building and Construction Trade Council,
      Electricians' Local 302, Plumbers' Local 159 and the Carpenters' Local
      152 were instrumental in getting the program up and running, said
      county Supervisor John Gioia.

      But the program sprang from the idea that students who might be
      interested in trade apprenticeships lacked the basic skills, including
      math and English, to pass the necessary exam.

      "We want to hand them off like a baton, with the math skills to be a
      plumber or electrician," said Gioia. "We're teaching them a lifelong
      career, as opposed to just getting a job."

      Lumber is neatly stacked in one corner at Kennedy High, and work
      stations offer hands-on lessons in framing, plumbing, carpentry and
      electric work. Still to come: skills in masonry, reading blueprints
      and working with concrete.

      "We're talking with the tin knockers -- the sheet metal workers --
      about a sheet metal apprenticeship," said Gaddis. "By the end of the
      semester, we'll build a mock-up of a house with a crawl space."

      "We've done measuring, tools. She gave us a safety test so no one cuts
      off their fingers," senior Dorian Spain said, halfway through a
      carpentry lesson on Monday. "It's better than doing Spanish. You learn
      a trade."

      Dorian and sophomore Talaysia Creer were cutting a 2-by-4 into
      sections, using a coping saw for a curved cut, a hand saw for the rip
      cut and a power saw for a tidy miter cut. Dorian dragged a pencil
      along the side of a world history textbook, drawing a straight line
      for cutting.

      "You get to do a real job out there and you get paid a lot. And, you
      can be fixing stuff in your own house," said classmate Marvin Boozer,
      a junior.

      By spring, a Hobbit-size house will sit under these soaring ceilings.
      And Gaddis, "Miss G" to her students, plans to help them build
      playhouses for local preschools and benches to replace the dilapidated
      ones in the high school's quad.

      Principal Julio Franco and the trade unions are keeping careful watch
      on the program, hoping for a new generation of skilled tradesmen.

      "If we succeed, this is going to be a mecca," said Franco, casting an
      eye toward the defunct machine shop next door.

      Reach Jackie Burrell at 925-977-8568 or jburrell@....
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