Shelly Frost thinks her students aren’t always getting a full picture of the opportunities available to them after high school.
“For so many years, we’ve only told kids: ‘You have to go to college, the only way you’re going to be able to support yourselves is if you go to college,’” the science and math teacher at Logos Public Charter School said.
Frost has wanted to use information about other career paths to encourage her non-college-bound students, but said, “I didn’t know where to find it.”
It was her search for understanding and a network that brought her and a group of colleagues from across Southern Oregon to Pacific Power Thursday afternoon.
Sixteen teachers lived as students for four days this week; they will do it again for another four days to complete the region’s first “educator externship.” The program aims to build relationships between schools and various industries and make the connections between academics and real-world jobs more relevant.
The participants, who gathered from across three counties and seven school districts, visited J.B. Steel, Amy’s Kitchen and Rogue Creamery throughout the week. At Pacific Power, teachers listened as employees presented on their day-to-day work, outlining how each role fits into a complex network of interrelated labor that provides electricity across the community.
Rich Mann, a journeyman transformer repairman and foreman, described how journeymen electricians maintain many different kinds of electrical infrastructure. With a certification, he told the teachers, journeymen electricians can earn $34 per hour on average in Oregon.
They are also some of the most elusive skilled laborers to find in the state, regional business manager Christina Kruger said later. There are few enough that even finding professionals to oversee apprenticeships can be a challenge.
“That’s something that needs to be addressed,” she said.
That’s part of the reasoning behind the Southern Oregon Education Service District introducing the externship to this area — the Willamette ESD pioneered the concept in Oregon in 2016. School district employees in both classrooms and administrative offices are increasing their focus on ensuring students who might be interested in filling the gap in labor are supported in school as thoroughly as the college-bound.
Debbie Vought, who manages SOESD college and career programs as well as science, technology, engineering, arts and math STEAM programs, oversaw the externship. The work started by connecting with local businesses and putting out the information to teachers about the opportunity.
“If teachers can go out into industry and learn and see firsthand how this content manifests in the real world, they can use that knowledge and then redesign both their lesson plans and their messaging so that it’s more real, more relevant,” Vought said.
It’s the same goal driving the state’s growing emphasis on career and technical education. This was the focus of both the successful 2016 ballot Measure 98, which now funds career-readiness and dropout-prevention programs, as well as the Medford School District’s failed May 2017 bond measure to build one new CTE facility each at North and South Medford high schools.
Teachers also can accrue either graduate credit or professional development from the experience, which helps when they apply to renew their teaching licenses.
Frost said she can think of students who may have benefited from knowing more about the opportunities as trade workers or skilled laborers. If they are not college-inclined, she said, her students have often simply opted for minimum-wage jobs.
“I didn’t get an A in algebra 2, and so I’m not college-bound and this is the best I can do,” she said, describing a mindset she perceives.
This week, she said, “The whole time, I was thinking, I have this student who would be great for this!”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.