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An alternative path to success

Thu., April 16, 2009

Awards give students shot at further schooling

Amanda Sackett assumed she’d be taking a year off after graduating from Lewis and Clark High School this year to save money.

While attending college at a four-year university is on the list of things she wants to do, it hardly seemed like a reality for the 17-year-old senior, especially with the rapidly rising cost of tuition.

“I always wanted to go to college, but didn’t really know that I could,” Sackett said.

But Sackett, who is self-supporting and lives with her older sister, won’t need any time off. With the help of a Washington state scholarship focused on career and technical education, she’s headed to Spokane Falls Community College in the fall to study business and marketing.

The Washington Award for Vocational Excellence is given to three students – two high school and one community college student – from each of the state’s legislative districts who excel in career and technical education classes. Statewide, there are 146 WAVE recipients; of those, 12 are from Eastern Washington. The students receive two full years of tuition at any private or public college or vocational school, or up to $6,270 a year.

“For many of these students, if they don’t have this opportunity, they’d kind of write themselves off,” as not being able to go to college, said Marina Parr, a spokeswoman with the Washington Workforce and Education Coordinating Board.

The WAVE scholarships are designed to help students who excelled in vocational class, in welding, teaching, cosmetology, architecture, nursing, or any of the other courses offered as CTE at local high schools.

Sackett and the other students awarded the scholarships are among a growing number of high school and community college students who are finding pathways to education outside the traditional four-year university, officials said.

“If you talk to most parents they say, ‘I want my child to go to college,’ and they mean a four-year baccalaureate college,” said Susan Christenson, director of technology and career and technical education for the Central Valley School District. “But there is somewhat of a shift beginning for people to think of the term college as post-secondary education, and that might look a lot of different ways.”

Washington’s focus on education has primarily been around the Core 24, the requirements for graduation that ultimately prepare students for entrance into a four-year college. But not all students are headed to a four-year college right after high school, and training in career and technical education will help those students get jobs – and help trades in need of workers.

“Only about 20 percent of our occupational need is based on a four-year baccalaureate degree requirement,” Christenson said. “Over 65 percent of our occupations require post-secondary education or training, but not based on a four-year or more degree.”

And many students need to explore real-world opportunities and skills before they leave high school.

High schools have devoted more resources in the past 10 years to career and technical education. Central Valley has 90 courses between two high schools, in 45 subject areas, including a teaching academy where students pair up with a CV elementary school classroom teacher and spend several hours a week working with elementary students.

Lauren Puhek, a senior at Central Valley High School, is a WAVE recipient and a teaching academy student.

On Wednesday, Puhek helped a second-grader at Greenacres Elementary School with reading skills.

Eventually, she wants to study pre-med and work at a children’s hospital. She’ll be the first in her family to go to college.

“College is such an expense,” Puhek said. “When I told my mom (about the scholarship), she was crying.”

“I don’t want myself or my parents to be sunk in debt for college,” Puhek said.

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