Surrounded by three other South Tahoe High School students, junior Brayan Latero focused on cutting a car brake while juniors Becca Wesson and Donovan Robins leaned over the engine compartment of an old Nissan. With cars elevated on jack stands and the sound of a motorized drill, the facility looks more like a mechanic's auto repair shop than a classroom. In fact, it's a little bit of both.
The class is part of the high school's Career Technical Education curriculum, a multiyear program that integrates core academics with technical and vocational knowledge to help students get into college or directly into a post-high school career.
"It started a few years ago when the state of California realized that this would be for some of the kids the last stop for a formal education. So it's a way to get kids to look at careers early. We're in the process of changing the school into a CTE school," STHS Visual and Performing Arts Department Chairman Bob Grant said.
There's a culinary arts program, dental hygienist training, digital photography and media classes, carpentry workshops and more. Construction continues on the Sports Medicine Academy, and when the building is complete, students will be able to focus on physical therapy and pre-med education.
Grant, who works in the new Tahoe Arts and Design Academy at the high school, said the school's expanded facilities have strengthened the CTE curriculum. There have always been digital media programs at the school, but with almost $100 million from Measure G funds invested in new infrastructure throughout the district, the students really respect the classes, Grant said.
Each year, Grant takes his students to Hollywood to visit successful STHS alumni who are now working in Los Angeles as writers, directors, photographers or producers.
One of the former students Grant often visits is Mat Lucas. Lucas began the CTE program as a freshman, and by the next year, he was the director of the morning news show.
He moved to Los Angeles in 2001 with a degree in film production and communications from Sacramento State and eventually went after a master's degree in film editing from the American Film Institute. He's worked for ESPN, Fox News, Warner Brothers' Television Network and is the current writer, producer and editor - preditor, if you will - at the CW Television Network. He also owns his own production company, and shoots and produces his own commercials, music videos and promos.
And he credits the STHS program with his success.
"From STHS, I learned that I had the talent for this industry, and I learned how I could apply myself to pursue a career. I have always been one of the youngest people in the jobs I've had over the years, and it's because I was trained at a young age. Most of my colleagues waited until after college to learn what I learned in high school," Lucas wrote in an email.
For automotive instructor Mike Patterson, his elective class can launch students straight into a Tahoe career. The auto shop education might mean the difference between staying in the basin and having to leave to find work elsewhere, he said.
"A lot of the snowcat technicians have gone through my program. It sets them up to go to a community college or trade school, but if they spend four years with us, they're pretty ready to work," Patterson said.
"It's a career our students can get into to make a good living, and if they chose to stay in Tahoe, they certainly can do that with the wages they'll make," he said.
Latero said he has no idea what he wants to do after he leaves the high school. In the meantime though, working with the cars is both interesting and useful.
"It's pretty fun. You get to work with and learn about cars. It's not boring like some other classes," he said.
Lake Tahoe Unified School District Superintendent James Tarwater said putting fun back into education is one of the goals of CTE. It's also a new model for students who either don't want or can't afford to pay for a college education.
"We get so focused on college-bound or nothing. Now we have a smorgasbord. I know some kids who just get hooked. It's putting excitement back into education," Tarwater said.
In other news
Post-high school planning
Parents looking for more information about options after high school for their student are invited to a presentation on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. at the South Tahoe High School student union building. The presentation will focus on college entrance requirements, timelines and resources.
Sierra House fundraiser
Fifth graders at Sierra House Elementary School wash cars Saturday, Oct. 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the school as a fundraiser for the students' Headlands trip. The cost is $5 per car and the school is located at 1709 Remington Trail, South Lake Tahoe.
STHS yearbooks go on sale
South Tahoe High School yearbooks are for sale through Dec. 21. To purchase a yearbook, visit www.yearbook.com or the Associated Student Body office.
Bijou food drive
The next Bijou Community School food drive will take place on Nov. 1-2. All donations can be dropped off at the school at 3501 Spruce Avenue, South Lake Tahoe or the Family Resource Center next door, which received nearly 600 pounds of food from Bijou's last food drive.
STHS teachers present in San Diego
Susan Channel and Frank Kovac, South Tahoe High School AVID teachers and coordinators, were selected from a field of more than 100 applicants to present at the AVID National Conference, an educational forum that will take place in San Diego this December.