Job Track Interns

On the Job Track

Arlington district’s career and technology program offers high school students work experience but still expects academic success

By SHIRLEY JINKINS | STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER

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Dr. Jill Peterson is assisted by health technology student Aishia Brown, 16, at Peterson’s Arlington practice. Brown wants to get into medicine when she graduates but isn’t sure yet of the specialty.

ARLINGTON — Aishia Brown, 16, may be the youngest dental assistant in Texas.

Brown, a Lamar High School junior, is one of nearly 15,000 students taking at least one vocational class in the Arlington school district. Brown hopes to use her experience to get into the medical field.

“I’m not sure if I want to go into cardiology or psychiatry,” she said. “But I’ve learned so much here.”

Dr. Jill Peterson, the Fielder Road endodontist who employs Brown, said she is sold on Arlington’s career and technology program. Students earn college credits, learn skills to enter the work force or get real-world experience.

“I’m really pleased to see that AISD has this program so they [the students] can participate in patient care hands-on and get a feel for it,” Peterson said.

From automotive technician to hospitality services, students can choose from more than 90 courses taught at Arlington’s high schools and Tarrant County College. Nine courses of study offer industry-standard certificates, giving students instant credentials to get licenses to work in such fields as cosmetology, computer maintenance or travel. Students can even follow a four-year specialized diploma plan in one of six career tracks, including health sciences, business and marketing, engineering and human services.

Since 2001, the Arlington school district’s Career and Technology Education program has grown into one of the largest high school programs in the state.

When the department began keeping numbers in 2001, 20 students earned industry-standard certificates.

In 2005, 963 students earned certificates.

Statewide, only the Windham school district had more students — 1,792 — earn certificates in 2005. Windham serves inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Arlington school district officials point out that students who take vocational classes are expected to succeed academically on state tests like other students.

“Students who are taking career and technology courses are on the same TAKS level as the others,” said Craig Wright, the district’s career and technology education director. “We’re not a dumping ground for kids who can’t achieve academically.”

Jose Galindo, a Sam Houston High School junior, takes hairdressing cosmetology classes, one of the most popular career tech programs.

“It’s to help me out to continue with my real dream, to be an architect,” said Galindo, who plans to cut hair to help pay for college.

The cosmetology classes are taught at Sam Houston High School by Dorothy Heine.

“We have 200 students apply every year, but we can take only 50,” Heine said. The students’ grades, conduct in class and citizenship all figure into whether they are accepted.

“This gives them real-life experience of what it’s like to be on their feet all day long,” Heine said.

Wright said the average student in public school now will work about 45 years and change careers seven or eight times.

“They must develop skill sets,” Wright said. “That’s why the academic preparation component is so important, to train and retrain for job changes.”

The school district has set up partnerships with more than 450 Arlington-area businesses to help give students workplace experience. Partnerships with Tarrant County College and the University of Texas at Arlington help students build college credit and plan degree programs.

Only about 4 percent of all college students can afford to go without working, Wright said. It’s important to prepare high school students to go straight into the work world, whatever their postgraduation goals may be, he said.

“We help students make sense of the labor market, where there are 40,000 to 45,000 jobs from which to choose,” Wright said. “There’s a lot for students to consider and think about.”