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1 out of 10 juniors, seniors in voc ed
Chefs and instructors, from left, Andrew Griggs and Jarvis Halloway stand in the culinary kitchen as students clean up for the day at the Academy at the Manteca Unified School District office complex. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

There are more than 300 high school juniors and seniors in Manteca Unified preparing for the future by learning how to do everything from making gourmet soup to writing code for video games.

The expanded Academy programs that started last week along with the district’s existing school farm and extensive Regional Occupational Program offerings are being taken by a tenth of the district’s 3.035 high school juniors and seniors. While ROP is a marriage of a traditional on-campus classroom instruction and off-site learning spots, Academy’s programs are self-contained and wrap basic subjects such as math, English and history within a specific area of discipline.

It is all part of the district’s commitment to improve the success of the 60 percent of district gradates that go on to a two-year post-secondary school or community college. Research showed many graduates on such a track fail to finish their course of study.

The programs in particular are designed to change that trend.

The district developed various offerings to reflect with regional employment needs. The ultimate goal is to make teens employable in jobs in Manteca or within easy commuting distance or prepare them for additional training so they can succeed. As an example, programs are designed not just to help students obtain a high school diploma and a foundation to further vocational education but also to make them employable. That’s why in many programs such as the culinary arts the goal is to have them learn enough to earn various certificates needed to make them employable such as for food preparation.

For the Northern San Joaquin Valley that means everything from jobs dependent on the international trade such as at Stockton Port to agriculture where almonds are California’s largest export crop to manufacturing jobs. It also covers food service and hospitality jobs, health care, and even code writing given the close proximity to the Silicon Valley.

District Superintendent Jason Messer indicated teaching staffs are exploring how can continue to give students advantages to secure fairly good paying jobs available locally such as in logistics and distribution.

At the end of last school year there were three basic programs: the culinary arts, industrial fabrication, and first responders.

Programs added this school year are health care plus the hospitality industry at Weston Ranch High; advanced engineering and manufacturing plus coding and gaming at Lathrop High; sports business careers such as broadcasting and sports medicine at Manteca High; and farm to fork food endeavors plus web design at Sierra High.

The seven new programs along with the three in place already mirror industries that are large job generators in the 209 region.

And just like with the other programs they are open to any student in the district. For example if a student currently at Manteca High wanted to pursue the web design program, they would be transferred to Sierra High from their junior and senior years. All programs are two-year undertakings for juniors and seniors.

Students successfully completing the vocational programs will get two diplomas — one in their chosen field of study and one from the comprehensive high school they are attending. They still have to meet all of the academic requirements that non-vocational students do. Academics are structured as independent studies in programs that are taken at the same time as vocational training.

In the past public schools in California have devoted most of their energy for students on the college track. In reality, Messer has noted only roughly 20 percent end up at four-year colleges.