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'Something we'll need': DHS showcases skills-based education

Parker Case-Roy (left), Dameion Traver (center) and Jade Walker (right) clean up while they wait for their made-from-scratch cinnamon twists to finish baking. These high school students learn culinary arts in DHS's cavernous kitchen. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)1 / 3
KeAnna Alexander, DHS junior, (left) Kay Poland (center) and Mick Lewton, representing West Plains Inc, showcase the connections between students, their teachers and local businesses that the school hopes to foster with their first ever CTE showcase. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)2 / 3
Dameion Traver mixes up some frosting that will adorn the made-from-scratch cinnamon twists he and other cadet culinarians at Dickinson High School were whipping up to showcase their skills at the school's first ever Career and Technical Education Showcase. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press) 3 / 3

Dickinson High School invited parents and area businesses to come visit the campus Tuesday evening to showcase the dexterity, diligence and dedication of their students, who are learning hands-on skills—and showing them to potential future employers.

"One of the goals of this showcase is to bring students and businesses a little bit closer," Scott Schmidt, DHS' construction technology teacher, said as he addressed an auditorium packed with students, teachers and business owners.

Schmidt said afterward that one of the main goals of this showcase, which featured a wide assortment of skills-based curriculums available at DHS, was to bring skilled students into contact with prospective employers.

With a variety of manufacturers, economic development corporations, area school leaders, ag businesses and even fine dining establishments in attendance, the first-ever Career and Technical Education Showcase allowed students to demonstrate their skills to the very people who would be most interested in them.

"If we can get the right kids with the right businesses and the right job, that's what's best for our students," Schmidt said. "I think a lot of high schools are doing it in some form. At Dickinson we have one of the largest amount of courses offered in the state in one place, as far as a school goes. It's really about raising the awareness, making the connections for the students for possible employment ... many of them come back here, and a lot of their parents are working here and a lot of times they want to follow that."

A brief presentation from DHS' teaching staff was followed by the auditorium splitting into groups, and students guiding adults to areas of the school where they could show what they've been learning with and whom they've been learning it from.

The emphasis is on real-world experience, and the high school has gone all out in making this happen, such as the functioning preschool being run on campus by student educators. Morgan Nelson, one of about 15 students in the childhood-related careers course offered by DHS, described the experience as invaluable.

"This basically gets your foot in the door to find out what it is actually like to own and run a preschool," Nelson said. "I thought it would be a great way to see if I wanted to do it and pursue it in the future. You can read in a book and read all about what you have to do, but until you're in there doing it, you're not going to know if you like it."

The juncture of business and education present at DHS is clear in the cavernous culinary classroom, a kitchen full of ovens, microwaves, prep stations and even a "proofer," which helps keep baked goods moist, all of which were donated to the school by local baked goods manufacturer Baker Boy.

"It's like a food sauna," student Nelson Loris said, describing how the proofer works before elaborating on why he's grateful that family and consumer science is required learning. "In real life, if you're going to live on your own and you're going to actually work as an adult, you're going to need food. That's why I like this is a required class; this is something we'll need in our adult lives."

The practical aspect of being able to learn how to cook is one thing, but for students like Dameion Traver, this is an opportunity to start working toward an even larger dream.

"I'd like to follow in my father's footsteps," Traver said. "He was a chef. He graduated from culinary school ... he worked in Spain for a time, he worked in Vegas and he worked in Colorado at several casinos where he was head chef."

Traver said the opportunities DHS had provided gave him a practical experience he likely wouldn't have gotten had he tried to study the art of cooking on his own—the program emphasizes making everything from scratch.

"All of our stuff is made from scratch. We made this frosting from scratch. We did whipped cream from scratch; we whipped cream, we added sugars," Traver said. "I feel like taking this class really lets me broaden my spectrum."

Deklan Weidner, a DHS senior and a member of their SkillsUSA team, is able to apply and sharpen the skills he'd picked up growing up.

"I always go and work on cars with by grandpa," Weidner said. "I help him with cars and everything and my older cousin who lives now in ... North Carolina, works for Penske Racing; he learned from my grandpa as well. He told me about Skills, and I went in my junior year."

He enjoys what the classes have to offer.

"In Automotive 2 we learn hands-on and diagrams and electrical equipment and we get all sorts of different kinds of programs and then we tear it apart and take a look at it," Weidner said. "It's (fun.)"

While many of these courses serve to provide individual skills, a value present in the high school setting is the ancillary benefit—learning subtler skills, like teamwork.

"In this class, we have different labs and every three labs we switch with different people," Jade Walker, another culinary student, said. "It's teamwork, we get to experience with different people and how they cook and we can help them get better. It's nice to go be with more people than just three main people in the class."

The showcase featured a wide variety of courses that the high school offers, including architectural drafting and even a "life skills" course that teaches a variety of skills that standard curriculums may overlook, such as how to balance a budget, sign a lease contract and file one's taxes.