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Learning Matters: Opportunities for creativity and innovation abound through career-education program

Last week at Glendale High, 10 students on two teams presented their final projects for a two-week introductory course on entrepreneurship, taught by California State University Northridge, or CSUN, engineering professors S.Jimmy Gandhi and Dale Deardorff.

The class was one of the unique opportunities afforded area high school students since 2014, when Glendale Unified and its partners in the Verdugo Creative Technologies Consortium, or VCTC — Burbank Unified, Glendale Community College, CSUN, and the Verdugo Workforce Development Board, or VWDB — received a $6 million grant from the California Department of Education.

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With a statewide goal to help students gain meaningful experience and knowledge in courses of study leading toward good careers in growing industries, the VCTC grant focused on digital arts and advanced manufacturing, two of the region’s major employment sectors.

As a part-time resource specialist at the VWDB (what I consider a cheerleader for career education), I’ve had a window on the activities of the grant since its inception and was especially pleased to hear this last group of students present what they’d learned.

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“Innovation is creativity,” said the first student speaker, before outlining the steps her team took to identify a problem, come up with a solution and develop a strategy to market it.

“Innovation is creativity,” echoed the lead speaker for the second team, saying that after just two weeks a notion that has been a stumbling block in discussions of school budgets and education plans for years is now a reality.

In many of those conversations, “creativity” is addressed as a topic belonging to visual and performing arts classes, while “innovation” is linked to science and technology.

But as Intro to Entrepreneurship and other pathway classes have made clearer to many students and their associated adults in career-education classes, technology highlights the interdependence of arts and sciences.

There is no engineering without design, no design without art. In digital arts — animation, filmmaking, video-game development or media — there is no art without the underlying math and computer science.

But perhaps even more than their expanded understanding of creativity and innovation, pathway students have had the opportunity to engage with adults outside their regular school experience.

They’ve met with college professors and industry professionals who have shown them the connections between their classroom studies and their futures.

“Professors Gandhi and Deardorff’s teaching style was completely different than the way high school teachers teach,” Clark Magnet student Inessa Sevantsian wrote in an email.

“Even though some high schools offer a business class, this two-week program broadened my knowledge more than a year long class,” she added.

Her Clark classmate Harutyun Maranjyan emailed about “the feeling of excitement to work with my group partners on something we enjoyed.”

Students in the after-school architecture, construction and engineering program have spent summers shadowing architects, contractors and inspectors as they worked on the district’s Measure S school remodeling projects.

Film and animation students have sat across the table from filmmakers and animators to receive professional feedback and advice on their portfolios.

Several groups of students over the last two years have committed their Saturdays to taking classes at CSUN or Glendale Community College.

Currently, up to 10 music students from Glendale Unified or Burbank Unified, referred by their music teachers, are beginning a mentorship program with the American Federation of Musicians Local 47 “to include exposure to scoring sessions in film or television, one-to-one meetings with students and accomplished mentors in the field and a firsthand exposure to all demand careers in this field.”

There are many adults in the job market who would pay plenty for the opportunities these students are getting for free.

But there are often more opportunities than students who know about them or are willing to commit the time to take advantage of them.

In Intro to Entrepreneurship, interestingly, eight of the 10 students were girls, and all but one of the students came from Clark Magnet High School, encouraged by their teacher, Elaine Snodgress.

The one student from Crescenta Valley High learned of the class on her own, through the school bulletin.

But, however slowly, with the hard work of a few individuals, school culture is changing to embrace the value of work-based learning.

Having a dedicated career-education counselor has made a difference, as Burbank Unified has long observed and Glendale Unified has learned more recently.

Maurice James, who has served as Glendale Unified’s coordinator of career technical education for the last few years and in support of career education at Roosevelt Middle School and Clark before that, has knocked on more industry doors and nudged and cajoled more district teachers and administrators to encourage student participation than anyone I know.

He even rode the bus to CSUN nearly every Saturday for a year, with no extra pay, to ensure students were appropriately supervised.

James is leaving the district this year, and we will miss him. Our students have been the beneficiaries of a man with a wonderful heart for their futures.

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