Mountain View Voice

News - October 7, 2011

Not your dad's shop class

New course teaches skills to future contractors, architects and engineers

by Nick Veronin

It's little over a month into the school year and Jeff McTighe's classroom at Los Altos High School still isn't completely put together. Yet, the lifelong carpenter and handyman can envision exactly what it will look like, and he is excited.

"When people see what we're doing, they're going to be real impressed," McTighe says, as he demonstrates how each of the various "modules" will help his roughly 40 students learn the basics of carpentry, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical wiring, plumbing, masonry and landscape design.

McTighe's modules are basically training stations designed to help students practice taking apart and reassembling the pipes beneath a kitchen sink, for example. The insulation and roofing module comes in the shape of a miniature house, and the electrical module requires students to put together non-electrified power sockets. Behind the classroom — which occupies the former site of the Los Altos Parent Preschool on the southwestern edge of the campus — a plot of land will serve as the landscaping and masonry laboratory.

The class is the brainchild of Brigitte Sarraf, associate superintendent of educational services for the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District.

Sarraf says that the impetus for creating an integrated technical skills curriculum came from her realization that while the majority of students in the Mountain View-Los Altos district go on to attend college and universities, around 20 percent of graduates have a "ticket to nowhere."

"They have no practical skills that will help them get a job," she says, explaining that a high school diploma alone is often not enough to get non-college-track students in the door of any job where they will make enough money to support themselves. However, if all goes according to Sarraf's vision, students who take two years of McTighe's class will graduate ready to get an entry-level contracting job.

And for those who do want to continue their education after high school, Sarraf says, the class will provide a solid foundation for them to become anything from a foreman to an architect or civil engineer.

"This is nothing like an auto shop or metal shop or wood shop," Sarraf says, noting that the class comes at a time when many such programs are disappearing from public schools. "This is teaching skills to kids to become apprentices, to become journeymen, to become contractors and to become architects and engineers."

McTighe, the son of a contractor, says that in a way he is "jealous" of the kids in his class. In his day, the only way one could break into a skilled trade field was to have a connection through family or friends, or hope that a local contractor would take you on as an apprentice.

"This opens their eyes and introduces them to the necessary skills" needed to work as a contractor, McTighe says. "There are a lot of students that will be able to use these skills to go on and make a living."

Comments

Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Kudos to Ms. Sarraf for a great idea. I think many students would do well to get a job out of high school instead of being dumped directly into college. They can then get a better idea of what life is about and figure out what they want to do with their lives. They can also earn and save money to pay for their further education if that is what they want. Many service and technician jobs are very well paying and there is a strong demand for skilled workers so the unemployment rate is lower than for recent college graduates.

I hope Ms. Sarraf succeeds. There are alot of entrenched interests that may oppose her and Mr. McTighe. I recall seeing a report on television of a high school restaurant career course that was shut down by the school cafeteria employees' union because, as practice, the class was selling food to students and reducing the business of the union members.


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