Grant expands CGHS CTE programs

The school’s “Swag Wagon” will be a mobile merchandise hub which will serve as a student-led business.

A $125,000 grant is expanding on Cottage Grove High School’s already robust set of CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs.

The grant from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) will go toward the school’s manufacturing, engineering and design programs, allowing students to work with more space and new tools, which in turn will increase skillsets available within the program.

Each year, ODE offers a revitalization grant to help schools start up or enhance a program. This year, Cottage Grove was awarded the full amount.

“And so that was very exciting for us,” said Cottage Grove High School Principal Kevin Herington, who helped write the grant. “It better prepares [students] if they have a specific job field or career that they want to head for.”

There are a handful of requirements a program needs to be approved as an officially CTE by ODE, which sets it apart from vocational training.

“It’s actually much more comprehensive than [vocational training],” said Herington. “We need post-secondary partners and it needs to be tied to a post-secondary institution of some kind and a program at a post-secondary institution usually Lane Community College, but often at other community colleges and as well. … And there’s some more collaborative pieces between post-secondary partners and higher education. If that doesn’t have those things, it’s not an approved program; it’s really just an elective course.”

The recent grant will make a number of improvements to the manufacturing, engineering and design program at the high school.

For one, an outside space has been cleared and paved behind one of the buildings to increase production opportunities.

“So we’ll have a canopy back there that will allow them to work outside in the elements but stay drier than they would on a normal job site, but still give them that same experience,” said Herington.

The site will allow for work like rough construction and welding with additional equipment, which could enable students to build structures likes sheds, tiny homes and yurts.

The program is comprehensive, too, in that it gives students a chance to see a project through from concept to creation.

“The idea is, they’ll start in the beginning phases of the classes and they’ll start product design,” said Herington. “And then from there, they’ll do some 3D printing and things where it’s fairly cheap, and then create that prototype. And then once they’ve got the prototype down, they’ll actually go try to build it with the more expensive materials.”

The skillsets developed in these programs will ideally pave a path for students who would like to go into an industry professionally.

The latest enhancement builds upon a fairly large body of CTE programs already in practice at the high school. 

There are currently programs covering culinary arts, business and entrepreneurship, marketing, computer science, graphic design, electronic video, media and early childhood. These are available for all grade levels, so a student could conceivably finish high school with four years of a particular skillset already under their belt.

In addition, almost all are dual-credit courses, meaning students can earn credits toward a certification or degree at a community college while they’re in high school.

“Lane Community College went through a process a couple of years ago where they actually started looking at certifications to get people into employable positions before they actually earn their associate degrees,” added Herington.

The high school’s CTE programs take advantage of this possibility for students to get a head start.

“Really, it’s getting students some sort of exploratory experience in their, say, ninth grade year, and then as they move through the program, if it’s something they want to continue to pursue, it’s getting them more specific experience, to where by their senior year they could actually be on the job or working in that field, while they’re taking classes as well,” Herington said.

Getting students connected with the right job requires drawing on countywide resources. An advisory board works with not only post-secondary partners, but also partners in the various industries to make sure the school’s curriculum aligns with current industry standards and required skills.

The vast network of industry partners is generated by a countywide outreach effort in which the advisory board asks multiple organizations to sit in on meetings and be part of the conversation. These various businesses or organizations provide insight into what a good curriculum for that industry would look like.

“So that’s how it’s vastly different from the old vocational education where it kind of ended at whatever the teacher’s knowledge was,” said Herington. “This is where industry is coming in with post-secondary partners and saying, ‘Okay, these are the skillsets that we need for our employees to have in our workforce and in our industry.’”

Broadly, the effort to push CTE is also aided by a regional consortium which works out of Lane Education Service District and the organization Connected Lane County, which strives to improve outcomes for underserved youth. The latter has a program known as Elevate which focuses on career-connected learning, helping schools with job shadows, tours and on-the-job training opportunities.

Aside from the program enhancements allowed by the recent grant, Cottage Grove High School has also purchased a trailer which will turn into a student-run business selling student-created products like T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats.

“This is an opportunity to put the stuff in a trailer, take it to a game, sporting event, community night, whatever, and sell,” Herington said. “So, the construction class might be able to sell some things out of there, or the art programs, or our prototypes from the engineering/manufacturing (programs) also might be able to sell products and stuff out of there. And so that’s really the idea, is that it becomes a student-led business.”

On the horizon, there’s also a plan to bring in a food truck and attach that to culinary and business programs with the help of the Bohemia Food Hub.

“And that’s the excitement that gets generated when our students and our staff and our local industry partners get together,” said Herington. “The synergy is wonderful. And the students get a really good experience it doesn’t become schoolwork; it becomes real-world work.”