Apodaca: Helping kids discover their life's work

April 05, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

Some kids finish high school with no idea what the future might hold. Even though most go on to further their education, many have only vague notions of careers that speak to them.

But for some, given the opportunity, a path that can lead to important and fulfilling work can emerge before they graduate. That is a goal of those who run Newport-Mesa Unified's Career Technical Education program, which is designed to expose students to practical learning in fields as diverse as film and video production, construction technology, and hotel, hospitality and tourism.

I've written about CTE before, but recently I had the opportunity to see first-hand how these efforts can help open new possibilities for students.


Last month I had the pleasure of stopping by Costa Mesa High School's Green Career Fair, which was organized by the school's Environmental and Marine Academy. About 850 students from Mesa and other Newport-Mesa schools visited the fair, where they met with representatives from various companies, nonprofit organizations and local agencies to learn about environmental initiatives, innovations and jobs.

In a new report released last month, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics found that green jobs grew four times faster than other industries combined from 2010 to 2011, to a total of 3.4 million. Economists widely agree that employment related to the environment will continue to outstrip the broader economy as employers seek ways to operate more efficiently and with fewer resources.

This makes Mesa's focus on environmental studies a very smart idea.

The academy was started six years ago and has received funding through federal and state grants. Enrolled students follow a three-course track starting with an introductory class, followed by environmental research and technology (changing to green urban design next year), and finally a class in environmental field study. Hands-on experience is emphasized; soon the school is hoping to finalize a deal for students to work on the Fairview Park restoration project.

Teacher Cristen Rasmussen, who runs the environmental program with Cheri Daniels, said that results from these types of narrow-focus academies have been positive. She cited research showing academy students have higher graduation rates on average than the general student population.

"The academy really gives the students a buy-in," she said. "They're more connected and motivated."

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