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On campus and hands-on: junior high students tackle a trade

March 30, 2015

In just a few short months, junior high students with no trades experience are braising, soldering, and sanding with ease, thanks to an unique partnership with Medicine Hat College (MHC).

Now in its fourth year, students from Notre Dame Academy (NDA) in Medicine Hat are gaining hands-on experience in a variety of trades through Career and Technology Foundations (CTF), a program that targets Grade 9 students. Considered to be leading the province in working with this younger age group, MHC’s proven success with the program has led to its expansion with Parkside School in Redcliff.

“We were skeptical at first,” admitted Dave Marshall, one of the college’s trades assistants working with the CTF program. “We had never done anything like this before but once we got started it was amazing. It’s the fastest few hours of the day. The kids are excited, they want to be here.”

The college offers three 10-12 week sessions throughout the school year. Each session features a different trade: welding, plumbing or carpentry. Students are brought on campus once a week during that period to work in MHC’s trades facilities. They start with a safety orientation and complete a project under the supervision of their teacher and MHC employees. Education students from the college are also involved with the program to gain practical experience in a classroom environment.

At NDA, the school holds a lottery each fall for students to choose their electives, and for many, the CTF program is the jackpot.

“The students draw sticks to see who gets to sign up first. Everyone runs for the CTF option,” said Scott Duchscherer, the program supervisor from Notre Dame.

“Coming on [the MHC] campus motivates the kids. They feel like adults, which helps their transition into high school.”

He added that by working in this hands-on environment, students can see more tangible results from their efforts. Some students who don’t often have success in a traditional classroom environment have new opportunities to build confidence and pride here.

For Cody Lions and Michael Plante, both 14, the hands-on experience is the best part of the program. After finishing the CTF session, Lions feels like a plumbing apprenticeship is definitely an option for him, and that having this experience will give him an edge in the future.

“It feels good to develop our skills. It’s great to come to the college and do something different for a change,” said Plante, who’ll be back on campus for the carpentry session this spring.

For the program’s only female student, Veronika Schall, the trades experience was a welcome opportunity.

“I’d love to come again. I prefer this over cosmetology,” said Schall, who enjoyed the soldering and welding aspects of plumbing and is considering a career as a millwright.

Building relationships and developing partnerships with local area schools is a win-win situation for the college and community. Not only does it provide secondary students with access to quality college curriculum, it will hopefully create within them a level of comfort for post-secondary education. In a community where post-secondary participation is low when compared with the provincial average, encouraging students at the junior high level to consider their academic future is a positive step in developing a skilled and educated workforce.

Partnerships also allow the college to engage in conversations about the educational needs and wants of the community to better serve its stakeholders. The knowledge and feedback received from partners is invaluable when planning for the future.

“It’s an important partnership. I fully believe every school district in our region should have this opportunity,” said trades assistant Phil Bosch, who has watched the Notre Dame students grow in skill and confidence through the CTF program.

Evidence of that skill and confidence will soon be on display in the halls of Notre Dame Academy with the installation of their final plumbing project, while the next group of Grade 9 students prepare for their own MHC experience with Career and Technology Foundations.

NDA trades class