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Program treads path to personalized learning

Pre-trades pilot introduces students to range of career options
Chris Bolster

  AUDIO    – A pilot program offered at Brooks Secondary School is bringing the classroom and the workplace closer together and in the process helping to pave the way for high school curriculum to become more personalized.

The semester-long class, Introduction to Trades 10/11, began in February and gives students a way to take a look at what it is like to work in the skilled trades. The one-of-a-kind program has been in the works since last year. At the centre of this approach is the idea of personalized learning, an idea which is central to the BC Education Plan.

“It was set up so that students who might be going on the trades path in their grade 12 year could have a taste test of a number of trades,” said Brooks principal Kathy Rothwell. “Hopefully it’s an eye-opener.” In grade 12 students are able to enter the dual credits program through School District 47 and Vancouver Island University.

Students spend half of each day working on academics and then two afternoon elective blocks attending class at Oceanview Education Centre.

“It gives a real view of what might be ahead of them if they choose to go into a trade,” she said.

Teachers Don Nelson and Bernie Vecsey are instructing and helping to organize the class.

The program is divided into three phases. In the first part students attend classes to learn trades math, workplace communication skills, earn certifications in Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), industrial first aid and learn employability skills. In the second stage, local tradespeople come into the school to talk about what they do on their jobs, give demonstrations and have the students participate in job activities. Students have the opportunity to participate in a range of trades that include: plumbing, electrical, glazier, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and heavy duty machinery maintenance and operation. In the final stage, students go out with tradespeople in the community or dual credit instructors for a three-week period of hands-on work experience.

Cody Clausen, 16, is one of the 15 students who is participating and for him the experience “has been great. You don’t get opportunities like this,” he said.

Jaxon Munson, 17, echoed Cody’s enthusiasm. “Meeting local tradespeople gives me the chance to make a first impression,” he said. “I hope that will give me an edge when I’m looking for a job.”

Personalized learning is about meeting individual student’s needs as they make their way to graduation. “It’s about those students, not the system,” said Rothwell. “It’s a path they can choose. We’re trying to give them an early start so that they can create the path through the curriculum that gets them to where they want to be.”

Not all students in grade 10 have the same career or academic focus, but for the ones who do, personalized learning will help them reach their goals faster. Next year the school district is planning on offering grade 10 students, who know they will be attending university, advanced placement courses “so they don’t have to take electives or other courses that aren’t meaningful for them.”

Tye Leishman, owner of Tempco Heating and Cooling, is one of the tradespeople who volunteered to participate in the program.

Leishman, who has a ticket in electrical and refrigeration, said he was immediately interested in helping out after Troy Marshall, coordinator of the dual credit programs, approached him and explained the program.

When he was preparing his lessons, Leishman thought about what it was that he liked about being in a classroom. On the first day of his presentations he spent time to talk to the students to build rapport. “I was really impressed with what they said and their level of interest in tearing down some equipment,” he said. “Through the apprenticeships I’ve done I always end up being a tutor. I still remember what it’s like to not know and I remember what it was like to be 15. There wasn’t anything like this for me when I was a student.”

Leishman, who is now 41, was more focused on hockey than study in high school. He found himself graduating without a strong career path in front of him. That’s when he found the trades and it changed his life. He was hired as an apprentice electrician and developed a lasting friendship with his boss and mentor that has stuck with him to this day.

One main message students heard throughout their time with the tradespeople was that staying in school to learn the fundamentals and graduate was the best idea before looking for a job. Leishman said he discovered “why you should understand math and learn how to write properly” when he was entering his trade.

The Brooks program is not only helping students find their direction in life, it’s also helping tradespeople on their personal and professional development as well.

For a while Leishman has been thinking about the rewarding feeling he gets from teaching. He has recently decided to put more energy into developing a training business for heating and cooling professionals throughout North America. “When you see the lightbulb come on,” he said, “you know you’ve made a difference for that person.”

Dan Agius of Modern Windows has been in the window business for 25 years. He is happy to volunteer his time and expertise in glaziery because “it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Giving back to the community is something that I have passion for. We’re proud of what we do here and if we can motivate students to stick in school and stay in Powell River that’s great.”

He said that while the work his crews do building windows is not a recognized trade, he does think that giving students “a chance to see how a company runs from a manufacturing standpoint” is an important piece and he wanted to emphasize that there is work to be had locally.

For Jay Yule, superintendent of schools, community involvement is an important part of what makes a program like this work.

“We wanted this experience to mirror real careers as much as possible and sometimes just in the classroom that’s difficult,” he said. “Tapping into community resources gives students that experience and it honours the work and expertise we have in the community.”

  AUDIO     Listen to Jay Yule or Tye Leishman speak about the pilot program.