The hands-on education program given by industry professionals in the Professional-Technical Education (PTE) program at Sandpoint High School has seen several of its grads begin their chosen careers before starting college.
PTE offers courses in journalism, information systems, welding, computer-aided design (CAD), culinary arts, business technology, natural resources management, individualized occupational training, or the health professions. PTE also give students an inexpensive way to earn college credits. The courses are accepted by North Idaho College (NIC) and Lewis and Clark State College, and students pay a fraction of the cost of a college credit.
“Other programs have come and gone, but we have something very solid here at PTE,” said Alex Gray, the department chair who oversees the program in the Lake Pend Oreille School District. “It’s constantly morphing to keep up with a changing society.”
Gray meets with principals in the district and community and business leaders to keep courses relevant to the job climate. Additionally, each program within PTE has an advisory committee comprised of people in the industry. Together, they discuss and decide the ways to meet the demands of the business community. For example, currently there is a need for machinists in the aviation industry. “There are jobs here especially in aerospace, and we’re trying to meet that need,” he said.
Other programs, such as culinary arts, are student driven. The program was added after a student survey collected showed an overwhelming response to learn the industry.
“All of our programs have that occupational link to them,” he said. Many of the teachers in the program are industry professionals who took additional training to teach about their occupation. Gray himself has a background in information systems. “It was nice to have experience and take that back to the classroom,” he said.
Malia Meschko, who teaches CAD and animation, was an elementary school teacher first but had initially started studying architecture in college. While working as a substitute teacher, she subbed long-term for a CAD teacher. The teacher, impressed by her abilities, encouraged her to teach it after he retired. Meschko’s early interest in the industry was rekindled, and she took the necessary classes to teach it.
Like Gray, Meschko makes her own community ties and has helped several students with internships or make contacts. “When I talk to community members, I try to hook up students with small projects. That’s the best education experience they can have,” she said. “It takes some planning, but it’s a first job. “It takes some planning, but it’s a first job. If local companies take some time to clearly layout steps and expectations for students, it becomes a win-win for schools and employers.”
PTE Students Finding Success
One of Meschko’s former students, junior Moriah Haley, took her drafting and CAD classes. Although she moved to Texas last year with her family, she landed a paid design internship at a furniture and appliance public company.
“At first, I joined the class to fulfill graduation credits. Once I was in the class, I fell in love with architecture and became passionate about the class. 3D Design was by far my favorite class I took at Sandpoint High School. I never had homework in that class and got to spend all class working on projects on the computer mainly,” Moriah said.
She learned the ins and outs of 3D design and its associated software. In her internship, she has been able to put her skills to work designing. She’s proud to have done the design work for the Alexandria Mall in Louisiana, among other projects. Although her father got the internship for her, she credits Mrs. Meschko with teaching her the necessary skills to qualify for it.
“This internship keeps opening up more doors and more opportunities all thanks to [Mrs. Meschko’s] class,” Moriah said.
Bruce Bales, a 2015 graduate, was hired full-time by Kochava, a software development company in Sandpoint. He participated in PTE all through high school, taking Mr. Gray’s information technology classes, Mrs. Neiman’s Computer Business Applications classes, and Mr. Mann’s robotics classes. It was in Mr. Mann’s class that he learned about Kochava and the possibility of interning there.
“Mr. Mann gave a presentation to Mr. Gray’s A+ Certification class about Kochava … he told us they were looking for interns. Afterward, I sent him an email, and it all went from there,” Bruce said.
At Kochava, he helps to integrate other technologies to the company’s product, which is a mobile attribution/analytics platform. Currently, he is full-time there and plans on taking online computer classes to further his career.
“I hope to build a successful career in the realm of computer science, and so far Kochava is playing a huge role in that!” he said.
Another PTE alum, Tyson Bird, had an early interest in journalism but didn’t think he was good enough. He began taking the journalism classes in the PTE program at the encouragement of some of his friends. Now he is studying journalism with a concentration in graphics at Ball State University and works as the graphics editor at the Ball State Unified Media and the Assistant Director of Journalism Workshops.
“PTE has given me a huge advantage over my classmates at Ball State. Walking in with the experience of working in a powerful and resource-rich student newsroom is not something the ‘typical’ college student has on their vita — even among journalism majors,” Tyson said.
His high school experience using the Adobe Creative Suite gave him a jump start in his major.
“(It) has allowed me to now focus on the storytelling aspects of journalism, instead of having to learn graphics programs. Building on the fundamentals I developed in high school, I have interviewed Rainn Wilson, Paul Ferguson (Ball State’s president) and the Sandpoint solar roadways entrepreneurs,” Tyson said. “I rely on the people, design and journalism skills I developed in PTE programs to do my job every single day.”
LaCheale Linscott, another 2015 Sandpoint High School graduate, took PTE’s business courses. With them, she earned 15 college credits from NIC at $10 a credit. She continues to study business and will eventually attend Boise State University. Because of PTE, her first job in high school was at an accounting firm.
“At first it was scary because I was a junior, and I knew it was serious, but with my background, (the job) came easy,” LaCheale said. “Because it’s new, there are always new things you’re learning, but because of my classes, it really helped prepare me.”
For more information about SHS’ PTE program, visit sh.lposd.org.