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Learning Matters: High school students enjoy face-to-face with working professionals

At an upcoming career pathways conference hosted by the California Department of Education, one keynote speaker will focus on the reasons why so many career and technical education, or CTE, classes have empty seats.

The draft program describes the presentation this way: "Many CTE programs remain the 'alternative' or 'safety' option (for students). Why doesn't everyone 'get it' already? … We need to examine why the tipping point still has not occurred toward pathways … and the pursuit of gainful employment."

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In Glendale and Burbank, the tipping point hasn't quite occurred, but it's approaching. Developing a career pathway — a sequenced progression of classes from secondary into post-secondary instruction in which students apply academic skills to create solutions to real-life problems and gain valuable workplace experience — isn't easy or quick, but the work is well underway.

Faculty and staff in Glendale and Burbank school districts, Glendale Community College and CSU Northridge have been collaborating to write and update curricula, create articulation agreements that ensure students' credits are recognized from one school to the next and engage with industry partners eager to develop future employees.

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Some students are earning industry-recognized certificates that allow them to help finance their own college education.

Progress has been particularly evident and promising these past few months for students in the digital-media pathways of graphic arts, cinematography and animation. Thanks to the entertainment diversity department at CBS and to Eido, a local company "at the intersection of those who need training and those who provide it," students have had face-to-face experiences with entertainment industry professionals "who all want to give back," as Eido's Pam Hogarth put it.

In early March, Eido brought together 26 digital artist professionals at Clark Magnet High School to review the portfolios of 37 students from Clark, Hoover and Burbank high schools as well as Glendale Community College and CSU Northridge.

Spending nearly three hours on a Saturday afternoon, the reviewers sat across the table from one or two students at a time, artist-to-artist, for 20-to-30 minute sessions of intense and spirited dialogue about the students' work, sharing both artistic and professional advice. Most students had the chance that day to experience three such reviews.

A month later, on another Saturday, many of the same artists — "digital-media-production professionals with lots of wisdom and expertise to share," as described on the student invitation — were back, this time at Glendale High, to serve as mentors, the first of three such sessions planned for spring. Hogarth and Maurice James, Glendale Unified's coordinator of career and technical education, are already looking for ways to continue such opportunities.

Back on the Clark campus on April 11, students from the digital-arts pathways had the chance to experience "CBS on Tour," a program that "recruits, nurtures and retains diverse talent to work both in front of and behind the camera."

As explained in the company's materials and by CBS executive vice president Tiffany Smith-Anoa'i, CBS believes in exposure, access and opportunity to provide students with a variety of opportunities to break into Hollywood and help diversify both the workforce and the executive suites. At Clark, they encouraged students to apply for internships when they get to college.

Smith-Anoa'i shared with the students how she visited the career counseling office on her second day at college to ask about getting an internship as a sports journalist.

"I got what I wanted and hated it," she said. However, the experience was nonetheless useful in her choice of careers.

Dorey Poder, now working as a casting director, had a similar story to share about his first internship. Poder started out wanting to work as a talent agent, but the experience led him to conclude he'd rather "be a buyer than a seller," a casting director rather than an agent pitching actors for new shows.

Internships can provide "another step to whatever you're meant to be," Poder told the students. "Decisions don't have to be forever. There's a plethora of careers you might not know about. Everything matters."

The message to the audience of attentive students was to "take the initiative."

Smith-Anoa'I said that 75% of CBS's employees got their start through internships.

I hope more students will see the link between school and their future employment and take advantage of the career-pathway opportunities offered.

JOYLENE WAGNER is a past member of the Glendale Unified school board, from 2005 to 2013, and currently serves on the boards of Glendale Educational Foundation and other nonprofit organizations. Email her at jkate4400@aol.com.

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