January 15, 2014

Innovation and tradition: Training for the jobs of tomorrow

Innovation and tradition have always worked hand in hand. Take Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, a company that did not exist 20 years ago. Bezos recently purchased The Washington Post, itself a product of 19th century innovation, which was nonetheless struggling to adapt its medium to a world that had transitioned from print to electronic communication. We don’t know yet how the new configuration will play out with Bezos at the helm, but it is easy to have confidence that the combination of innovation and venerable tradition stands the best chance of success.

Education is also adapting to changing times, taking advantage of new approaches and modern delivery systems. Teachers use technology every day to enhance learning, tapping into the new world their students inhabit, while continuing to meet traditional educational needs.

Of the innumerable benefits we all know education confers, high on the list is preparation for the world students will enter when their schooling is complete. That task can be tricky.

Technology evolves at such a dizzying rate that we must prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist. The new Common Core curriculum will help students acquire the foundation they need, providing students with the core knowledge and critical thinking skills that will enable them to be agile and able to learn what arises in real time.

Career and technology education continues to play a crucial role as well. Those programs embody a career exploration model that takes teaching and learning to new levels and uses traditional vocational and career programs to elevate academics to even higher standards.

Our county’s ROP/CTE programs continue to fill critical needs in helping students acquire job-related skills of the highest order, while demonstrating concrete uses for academic learning. This approach can be seen bearing fruit countywide.

The strength of ROP/CTE, an acronym for Regional Occupational Programs/Career and Technical Education, has always been its adaptation to the needs of the time. Since the program’s inception decades ago, its virtue has been its linkages and strong partnerships with local businesses and industries. These partners have informed our program regarding current workplace needs, a crucial element in making sure our programs remain cutting-edge. They also reinforce the need for the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom, applying those basics to real-world needs.

Modern times demand this approach. The jobs we envisioned yesterday are being filled today, and our ROP/CTE programs are making sure students have the needed skills through state-of-the-art model programs countywide.

Here’s a quick sampling:

The Graphic Communications/Design Lab at Cabrillo High School in Lompoc is a state-recognized program that has sent many students to the Oakland School of Art and Design, and provided several jobs and internships for Lompoc students. Teacher Scott Schaller has provided outstanding career and technical training and opportunities for his students, while incorporating basic academic training seamlessly into the program. His students learn typography, letterforms, and graphic design. They work on logos, building signs, labels, and a host of modern uses for a traditional art form.

The Dons Net Café at Santa Barbara High School is a nationally recognized Virtual Enterprise program that focuses on ecology and real-world applications of academic learning. Teacher Lee Ann Knodel teaches computer accounting and computer business applications along with virtual enterprise. Her students also help members of the community with their tax forms, using the most up-to-date software applications.

Students of Chip Fenenga, at Santa Ynez High School, use three-dimensional scanning to solve problems and conduct research, connecting with the global effort to preserve historical sites in digital formats. Students in the Environmental and Spatial Technologies Program are the first in the world to use Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging to capture millions of points of data and then create a three-dimensional image of an object. Using that technology on buildings and historical sites can be of particular value in reconstruction should a tragic fire or flood damage the building, helping preserve the cultural heritage for all time.

The Engineering Academy at Dos Pueblos High School has won state, national, and international awards for it robotics program. Director Amir Abo-Shaeer founded the program with a mission of gender equity among the students taking part, making sure the mix of boys and girls remains at 50-50. Robotics programs, which integrate textbook learning with hands-on, project-based applications, are skyrocketing in popularity among students. In fact, robotics programs can be found countywide, including Orcutt and Santa Maria.

ROP courses ranging from vintner programs to automotive repair continue to serve students by merging innovative technology with traditional academic and practical needs.

Innovation and tradition. This is the future. We are very fortunate that it is here, now, in Santa Barbara County, bearing fruit for students every day.