Teaching the Trade

6Honors classes are often times hailed as what students need to succeed in high school. A lot of pressure is placed upon students to take as many as they are able to, which is great for the subjects that the student happens to be strong in and needs more of a challenge; or, if the student is interested and invested in the course.

Honors classes are the key to college admissions and financial aid, it seems, but what about the students who don’t feel that same drive? Not every student is certain what they want to study or driven to further their general education at a four-year university.

The school system has definitely shifted over the years, putting more and more pressure on the collegiate path, despite the debt that students will surely accrue. The fees for college were not nearly as steep, and the requirements for acceptance to schools of your choice did not require grade point averages above 4.2 to even be considered. Some colleges do not require this, that is true, but the pressure is still there for many students, and it’s a pressure that many parents have not had to experience. Many people are also beginning to believe that the four-year path to university may not be what makes the most sense. Having spoken with an older generation, they once believed that the only choice for their children was to go away to college after high school, graduate in four years, and excel in their chosen career path. Now, they tell their grandchildren that they should go to community college instead, and go on to college later to avoid the insurmountable amount of debt and get into the limited job market immediately. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of what is the right choice, and every student is an individual who deserves the chance to make their own decisions about their next step in life, but it is an interesting shift in viewpoint that opens the doors for life experience to stand side by side with honors classes. Some students have different paths, or career goals, that they are more interested in pursuing and thankfully there are classes to give students a taste of the skills that could assist them in the workplace. For some, it can be tough to inspire them to want to take the honors classes that do not even vaguely interest them, or perhaps they take some honors classes, but would rather be involved in their extracurricular classes like home economics or auto shop. Luckily, these classes are available to cater to specific interests that can prepare students for a different path in life more suited to what they want to pursue, rather than what society says they need to pursue. College isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t something to be forced into if a student’s focus lies in a different job market. There are plenty of careers that are in high demand that don’t involve a degree so to speak and rely more on hands-on experience. Even jobs that are on the market for recent college graduates want more experience than education. If you’re able to get a taste of that experience in high school, then why not go for it?

Several passionate teachers from various high schools in San Joaquin County delve into the classes that they teach, as well as the benefits of their subjects for students. They acknowledge the skills and work involved in any of the careers connected to the classes they teach, along with the rewards of a hands-on career where the results of hard work are tangible.

Andrew Griggs
Culinary arts teacher at Mcnair h.s.

1Andrew Griggs has been teaching in the field of Culinary Arts at McNair High School for three years. After attending a college that focused on honing his culinary skills and working in the food service industry, he turned to teaching to be able to give back the knowledge and experience that he’s gained to his students. “It’s a craft career,” Griggs said, when discussing what it was about the field that got him interested. He described it as being a passion. “It’s more than a job. I like the craftsmanship and being able to cook food and have people enjoy it.” He strongly believes that students benefit from classes that focus in the culinary field. “We talk about local restaurants and how they tie in to the local economy,” he explained. “We try to highlight that through our internship program.” McNair High School’s internship program allows students to be able to gain some experience working in the food industry with these local restaurants, which gives them both experience for their resumes, as well as potential job offers after the internship has ended, for those who want to remain local or do not necessarily want to attend a four-year university after graduating. “We mirror college programs,” Griggs assured. He does, however, recommend some sort of secondary education, “At least community college. A lot of schools push two to four year degrees, but our internships can offer straight into careers.” Their goal is for 90% of students to get hired from their internship so that they can have a job straight out of high school.


Brent Newport
Agriculture teacher at lodi h.s.

2After teaching for three years at a small, rural school, Brent Newport moved on to teach for nineteen years now at Lodi High School in the Agricultural field. The hands-on aspect of the field is what compelled him to pursue a career focusing on teaching students the benefits of Ag experience. “I grew up around it. Really enjoyed the concept,” Newport said, as he further explained why he wanted to get students involved. “It gives the students skills for outside the classroom.” It’s true. Not only can the skills can be applied at home in the event that the students live on a farm themselves, but it can open a lot of doors into the working world. For example, working with livestock can provide the experience to explore a lot of options for future careers that can range from farm management to veterinary medicine. Newport acknowledged that the subject focuses on going above and beyond a standard office job, emphasizing that the hands-on work makes the job more rewarding. “Ag is so broad. There’s so much more to it than cows and flowers,” he said emphatically. “You can make a really nice living in produce and can travel the world. I have a friend who is in produce and travels to different countries for his work. There’s so much more to it than the work itself.” It’s also work that doesn’t have to feel like a traditional job. Opportunities can open up anywhere in this field. Some career options Newport touched on were mechanics, welding, botany, veterinary medicine, farm management, union management, winemaking, produce, and many others. Students don’t have to be limited in Agriculture.


Mary Damiano
Retail sales & marketing teacher at lincoln h.s.

3Entering her fourth year of teaching at Lincoln High School, Mary Damiano focuses on Retail Sales and Marketing, a glimpse at many of the career and technical education courses that are available at Lincoln High. Prior to teaching, she did work for approximately forty years in retail, her last position being the Store Manager of the Gottschalks that had been at Tracy’s West Valley Mall. “So the transition to teaching this course was seamless,” Damiano acknowledged. “I can really go beyond the essentials of the retail world and actually share my vast experience of successful practice.” Even though it is her second career, she has always had a passion for teaching and merging that passion with her experience makes for a very qualified educator.

Her Retail Sales course focuses on informing students with enough knowledge and skill to apply it in an actual customer service setting. She noted that customer service does play an extremely important role in our culture, as customer loyalty builds success in the retail field. For students to become well-trained in providing good service adds valuable experience to their resumes and general life skills. It can be applied anywhere and goes much further than the fundamentals of running a successful business. Damiano added that her course, “teaches students how to implement real life strategies. Such as communication, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and time management. These are skills they can use during, and after high school and in all facets of life.” Even in the retail world there are many options for students to consider. There are store level positions as well as corporate level depending on what it is about retail and marketing that a student is interested in. Positions in stock, merchandising, management, Advertising, and Human Resources are just some examples of jobs that the skills Damiano focuses on can be applied towards. Like the internships at McNair High School, Damiano described her own version called “Community Classroom” where students attend class part-time as well as work part-time with some of the local retailers. “This is where they get to experience what it’s like to work in the real world,” she said. “This is a huge benefit to students who may not know exactly where their interests lie.” It also benefits them in providing that experience that many employers are seeking when looking to hire. “If I can help develop a skill set that will serve a student well, after they graduate, then I will have accomplished some of what I set out to do,” Damiano stated, concluding her piece.


John Herger
Construction tech teacher at Venture Academy

4John Herger has been teaching at Venture Academy for five years, going on six this fall. He knew he wanted to teach when he was in high school himself, but it was only after careful consideration and weighing his strengths and weaknesses that he knew he wanted to work with metal and in the field of Construction. “Construction Tech gives me the option to pull from my Agriculture roots as well as the Trades Industry and gives the students a broader picture of the material at hand,” Herger added. He notes that he always had an interest in building things only to tear them apart afterwards which shifted into eventually fixing and creating new things by shaping metal. It is satisfying work in and of itself, and he gleans even more of it when his students are the ones creating. “Nothing in my day makes me happier than to see my students walk in the door and tell me about this wild idea they have for their backyard,” he explained, then back-tracked, realizing that it was when his students find that their project turns out even better than they imagined thanks to the effort they needed to put into it that he finds the most happiness. “I fully believe that students benefit from not just construction Tech but any class where they can tangibly see the concepts and formulas they learn in other classes come
to life.”

If his students are willing to put forth the work and effort, he claims that the possibilities are endless for the kinds of doors that will open up post-high school. The knowledge and skills that Construction Tech offers can be applied in a variety of different fields. “Of course additional training may be required,” he mentioned. Though in the case of his Mechanical Construction class, his students are armed with the skills and the ability to begin applying at jobs upon graduation. Such jobs include welding shops, steel distributors, HVAC shops, and other various union careers. His classes aren’t the only ones that will prepare students for that kind of work though. He stressed the importance of core classes like Math, Science, History, and English, claiming that they can be great assets for students moving on in this field.


Nikki Maddux
Meat science program teacher at tracy h.s.

5Nikki Maddux will be entering her sixteenth year of teaching at Tracy High School this coming fall. She received her bachelor’s degree in animal science, and her masters in animal science with an emphasis on developmental genetics. She also taught at the college level for a semester, but with Tracy High’s meat science program being one of only two in California, it seemed like an opportunity that wasn’t to be missed. “I didn’t plan on that,” Maddux said, regarding becoming a teacher in meat processing. “There are only two programs in the state, and in one it’s offered every other year. It gives the kids here opportunities that they can’t find anywhere else.” With the trend of eating organic food on the rise, having skilled hands in meat processing is predicted to increase in need over the next few years. Maddux explained that there is already a need for small, family-owned processing companies for their organic meat and farmer’s markets. Working for a small business isn’t the only thing this class prepares students for either. There are many options that are open to them after leaving this class with the experience they’ve gleaned from it. “One of the things we’ve been told by store managers is that our students leave our program understanding proper sanitation procedures.” For example, there are jobs that require their employees to have these skills within big businesses like Costco. “When they start at Costco, one of the first things they’ll be assigned to do is clean. Our students go in with these quality assurance skills.” Other areas in demand include understanding how to maintain food processing machines. National Band Saw manufactures replacement parts for hobart mixer and other brands, and learning how to change the saws and other parts can be a key skill for many. These skills are also revealed to be high in demand. Quality assurance opens doors to careers as food inspectors, advisors, working in the meat departments of grocery stores, or even jobs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Meat processing is a very specialized field that has more to it than one would expect. “Parents should be open to the idea of other jobs,” Maddux advised regarding careers in meat processing. For students who want to become chefs, they will be required to take classes in meat science to learn how to properly cut meat and prepare it. It’s a field that people need to be open to, as it is something that we do need and will continue to
need as long as people want
good, quality meat.