Editor's note: Starting next week the Free Press will begin featuring vocational programs offered at Mesa County Valley School District 51's Career Center.
Next week learn about the Coyote Cafe, a lunchtime eatery operated by the school's culinary arts program at the Career Center. The cafe is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
High school students are learning to arrange flowers and run a floral shop; repair computers; and build sheds, doghouses and other projects at the Career Center, a District 51 vocational high school located at 2935 North Ave.
Floral, catering and construction are three of the nine programs offered at the Career Center, an alternative school since 1975 that offers a "hands-on approach to learning basic academic skills in an applied fashion. All learning is career or job-based and provides students the opportunity to gain general work skills and job ethics that will transfer into any vocational area."
The federally funded program serves youth in grades 9-12, and includes students from all District 51 high schools, including Valley School and Mesa Valley Vision, R-5, Gateway, and Grand River Virtual Academy. Students either begin their day at their home school, or come directly to the Career Center. Students attend the center for one program (1 hour, 50 minutes) out of their school day.
"It's like an elective," principal Pat Chapin said. "Academics are embedded in the vocational skills being taught."
Other programs include computer repair, sport vehicle repair, landscape services, early childhood care, and audio visual technology - all of which - along with floral, construction and catering - offer its services to the public. Small animal care is a new program this year.
"Students learn life-long skills they can use in their personal life or as a profession," said Laurie Krizman, who has worked at the school for 20 years. "I know people who are working in a profession they learned here."
The Career Center also caters specifically to students with physical, emotional or learning disabilities. The School to Work Alliance Program (SWAP) for youth ages 16-25 provides employment-related assistance by teaching job seeking and job retention skills for young adults with disabilities.
SWAP is a collaborative initiative between local school districts and the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and is supported by the Colorado Department of Education.
Another program, In STEPS (Individual Student-centered Transition Employment Program Services), is for students 18-21 who have significant cognitive impairments, or have social deficits due to autism. The program teaches life skills and sets up vocational opportunities at various businesses for its students.