Last week, 175 local highs school students attended the first career presentation in a series of six scheduled for this school year, as part of an increased effort by the Calaveras County Office of Education (CCOE), high schools, colleges and community members to inspire and inform the next generation of the Mother Lode workforce through Career and Technical Education (CTE).
The presentation was hosted at Calaveras High School (CHS) on Sept. 11, with Bret Harte High School students tuning in via live stream technology, provided by the Calaveras Community Foundation.
The seminar focused on careers in health care and featured a Q&A with guest speakers, Mark Twain Medical Center’s Chief Nurse Executive and Vice President of Patient Care Services Katherine McCoy and (no relation) General Surgeon and Chief of Staff Dr. Andrew McCoy, according to Debbie Strand, CCOE Coordinator of Communications and Student Events.
In a survey conducted this year at CHS, medical careers were “far and above the area with the most student interest,” CHS College and Career Counselor Terri Tanner said in a CCOE news release. “Because we are in such a remote and rural location, many times students do not have a chance to gain exposure to career opportunities. They may have virtually no idea on how to go about entering a field of study or training for a particular career choice. These presentations provide information on a variety of career paths and give them an opportunity to talk with presenters, ask questions, and explore options they may not have previously considered.”
The topics of the CTE presentations were also informed by a recent study by the Centers of Excellence for Labor Market Research, which analyzed the growth of middle-skills jobs – meaning jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree – in Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.
According to the study, the business sector has the largest number of annual job openings in the Mother Lode region, followed by retail, hospitality, tourism, entertainment, energy, construction and utilities. Additionally, the health care and public safety sectors are still on the rise, with around 300 openings annually.
Future presentations, which are scheduled to take place throughout the school year, will cover many of those industries, with experts offering their perspectives on obtaining certification and the realities of each career choice.
During the health care seminar, Katherine McCoy talked about the many roles needed to run a hospital, from janitors and maintenance workers to laboratory staff and social workers.
“She talked about her journey to becoming a nurse and (how) she came from a family of parents who did not finish high school,” Strand stated. “She asked the students questions about what they feel the biggest obstacles are for going to college, whether it’s funding, knowing how to get there, etc. She offered one-on-one advice/help from hospital professionals if they contact her.”
In Dr. Andrew McCoy’s presentation, he discussed his path to becoming a surgeon and the responsibilities of being chief of staff.
“He said many medical students change directions once they get exposed to other specialties because they have often ‘romanticized about a position’ and find out the truth during residency,” Strand said.
According to Strand, many of the questions asked by students involved the challenges of performing surgery and withstanding the rigors of medical school.
“The presentation today was very helpful and insightful. It was great to hear about the options and career choices, it was a real eye-opener and made it more of a reality,” said CHS senior Mariano Airola in the release.
“I think that is a great idea for this to happen. It helps kids that want to have a career in this field. The medical field sounds cool. I wouldn’t mind having a job in the medical field,” said junior Clayton Moore.
As previously reported, Mother Lode students have long held an above-average interest in technical careers, and local schools catered to those interests by providing hands-on courses like auto and wood shop, while many other campuses statewide were doing away with them.
A recent push by the state for higher CTE standards, in conjunction with some passionate community members, has driven school administrators to go even further, utilizing innovative methods to expand outreach.
“Increased funding, increased awareness of relevance and pathway to life opportunities – the momentum is building on a larger scale and our schools are well-positioned to take advantage of this time and place to create opportunities for students,” said Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell in the release.
Some of those opportunities have come in the form of new programs, including the recent incorporation of Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a non-profit organization that develops science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula for use by schools nationwide.
Only a few weeks ago, CHS students were able to analyze a mock crime scene under the guidance of Calaveras County Sheriff’s Deputy and School Resource Officer Keith Vincent, as part of a biomedical science workshop through PLTW.
“PLTW curriculum allows students a ‘hands-on’ opportunity to see themselves in the roles of biomedical science professionals solving real-word challenges, diagnosing and preventing disease, and investigating a fictional death,” Strand said.
Last year, the Calaveras Workforce Development Initiative, headed by the County Office of Education in collaboration with many other community players, launched a website and a series of podcasts featuring interviews with employers and experts in the CTE field.
The career seminars are also posted on the website for anyone to utilize.
Another opportunity offered by the initiative is a dual enrollment program through cooperation with nearby community colleges, allowing students to get ahead of the game in their career goals.
“Despite a decrease in the number of students in our area K-12 schools the past decade, enrollment at Columbia College is up this fall,” said Brandon Price, Dean of Career Technical Education and Economic Development Columbia College in the release. “This is largely credited to recent increases in the proportion of area high school graduates choosing to attend Columbia College. More students are choosing to attend Columbia College for a variety of reasons including the quality of our programs, the Columbia College Promise, and the increased enrollment of high school students via dual enrollment.”
Financial support is also available to local students seeking a technical or community college education due to the continued efforts of retired business executive Paul De Baldo in conjunction with the Calaveras Community Foundation.
Every year since 2011, 10 graduating students within the county have been presented with a $1,500 scholarship to pursue their career goals.
De Baldo has also been a driving force behind the expanding informational outlets for CTE, working to dispel the “myth” that a four-year college degree is the only path to success.
“A paradigm shift needs to occur in education so that a student who chooses a CTE pathway is acknowledged for his or her accomplishments, just as a student who has completed a college pathway,” Bret Harte Union School District Superintendent Mike Chimente said in the release. “It is important to provide and support our students with every opportunity possible to achieve their post-secondary goals.”
For more information on CTE in the Mother Lode, visit calaverascte.org .