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Manteca Unified expanding vocational education
Diane Medeiros, principal of Academy, welcomed visitors to the Oct. 30 ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the official opening of be.Town as part of the first responders academy. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The road to success may go down Disaster Avenue for some Manteca Unified students.

Disaster Avenue is part of the first responders vocational program at Academy at the district office complex at Louise Avenue and Airport Way. Cobbled together out of portables that the district could no longer use as classrooms due to their condition, the series of pseudo storefronts are designed to provide a setting for life-like situations that students would encounter if their path after graduation leads to law enforcement or other emergency services careers.

Vocational education is the path least traveled by most California secondary schools. But that soon won’t be the case in Manteca Unified. In addition to three based programs including culinary arts and fabrication as well as the school farm and Regional Occupation Programs Manteca Unified will roll out seven more two-year vocation programs in the fall of 2015 at four comprehensive high school campuses.

The programs 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 mirror industries that are large job generators in the 209 region.

And just like with the 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 for their junior and senior years. All programs are two-year undertakings for juniors and seniors. 

But unlike, students from outside Manteca Unified will not be able to enroll in the seven new vocational programs at the individual campuses. That’s because operates as a charter school.

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 that are taken at the same time as vocational training.

The undertaking next fall at the highs schools, the school farm,, as well as the Regional Occupational Programs the district operates are part of the Manteca Unified goal to prepare students for their future beyond school.

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Preparing students for the future

“It (the vocational programs) tie back into the core mission of the district to prepare students for the future,” District Superintendent Jason Messer told Manteca Rotarians meeting Thursday at the Café banquet room.

Messer noted data shows that 20 percent of high school graduates nationwide go on to four-year colleges. Manteca Unified mirrors that number. The majority of those that do go onto four-year institutions of higher learning end up graduating and entering the fields of their majors.

Sixty percent of Manteca Unified grads go on to a two-year post-secondary school or community college.

The remaining 20 percent go into the military, the family business, start working elsewhere or end up in prison.

It’s the 60 percent that head to two-year schools after graduation that the vocation effort is primarily targeting. More than half of those students never complete the two-year program.

“Manteca Unified by most standards is doing a good job,” Messer said. “The high school graduation rate is high. A high number of students go on to college. And the drop-out rate is low.”

The goal with vocational programs is to make teens employable after high school in “the global economy.”

“That doesn’t mean they ever have to leave home,” Messer noted.

He is referencing 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.

One local manufacturing concern working with has had to go to Mexico to secure a qualified worker for a well-paying job due to the dearth of adequately skilled labor in the region. The firm is hoping will change the local labor market.

The fabrication, as an example, had two students over the summer working 40 hours at West Star Industries in Stockton welding kitchen equipment for Jamba Juice and Starbucks kitchens. One student has returned to classes while the other graduated and is working full-time for the company.

The fabrication academy has the latest equipment that replicates the same skills needed in today’s cutting edge manufacturing. While the firms they ultimately may work for have laser equipment that is valued at $1 million the $30,000 version has mirrors theirs although it is not as precise.

The culinary arts program has had a number of graduates accepted at prestigious culinary schools. One even was hired after completing the program as a chef in the Bay Area.

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Not your father’s vocational education

Currently there are 100 students enrolled in the three academies that share the district office complex site with the school farm. There is also a National Guard representative on site that operates in conjunction with the academies. Plans call for Delta College to get involved as well.

The school farm, besides preparing students for careers in agriculture, also grow food for the district’s cafeteria lunch programs.

And since the academy operates as a charter school, the district was able to bypass rigid and expensive state requirements for school construction. That allowed them to repurpose an old district warehouse for some of the programs including a gym where a Crossfit program is run as part of the first responders academy.

The “Hogan’s Alley” — the program’s answer to the FBI’s tactical training course — is so well done that the re-purposed portables are used for training by police and fire personnel.

It provides the added bonus of students being able to observe professionals train and sometimes be a part of that training as well.

Not only is it not your father’s high school woodshop, metal shop or drafting class. It is also aimed at all students.

Unlike vocational programs of yesteryear aimed at a specific segment of the student population, encompasses an enrollment ranging from special education students to those carrying a 4.0 in academics.

In short, it reflects the realities of today’s job market.