2015-07-31 / Schools

Path to the future

Students learn the ins, outs of business
By Melissa Simon

FUTURE BUSINESS LEADERS—A group of students from Royal High School’s new international business program visit Haas Automation in Oxnard last week as part of a two-week summer practicum to kick off the class. 
Photos courtesy of Kari Lev FUTURE BUSINESS LEADERS—A group of students from Royal High School’s new international business program visit Haas Automation in Oxnard last week as part of a two-week summer practicum to kick off the class. Photos courtesy of Kari Lev A group of high schoolers are getting a jump-start on the basics of business.

Over the past two weeks, 17 Royal High School students have visited a handful of engineering, manufacturing and international business leaders as part of a new, summertime career pathways program, said Pamela Castleman, curriculum and assessment coordinator with Simi Valley Unified School District.

The visits are part of the school’s new international business program and kick off the full-year course that will be offered starting this fall. The program is part of SVUSD’s reinvigorated focus on career technical education, which provides the academic and technical skills students need to succeed in their chosen careers.

Castleman said the district is offering 20 new career pathways this year, including biotechnology, information technology, international business, homeland security and culinary arts. The pathways are offered at Royal, Simi Valley and Santa Susana high schools for class credit and will eventually be expanded to include middle and elementary schools.

Next year, Castleman said, the district will offer a college and career seminar to all incoming high school freshmen so they can design a pathway and take the necessary classes.

“The district’s overall vision is to get the students to the careers of their dreams . . . (and Royal) is pioneering a very hands-on learning course for students (in international business),” Castleman said. “This (program) isn’t about writing vocabulary words. It’s about networking with people in the field.”

SVUSD’s career education program is the result of two California Career Pathways Trust grants awarded to VC Innovates— a consortium comprising local K-12 school districts, the Ventura County Office of Education, the Ventura County Community College District and the Workforce Investment Board of Ventura County—to prepare the future workforce and its leaders.

One of 12 recipients statewide to receive the three-year grants to implement career pathways, VC Innovates received $13.2 million in June 2014. In May, the group received another $10.2 million.

“In Simi Valley alone, VC Innovates was awarded $1.3 million last June and $700,000 in May to develop the (pathways) program,” Castleman said. “We were beyond excited because these are highly competitive grants, and to get them was a tremendous honor.”

Learning the business

During the two-week summer business program, which ended today, participating students analyzed case studies and applied what they learned to practical applications, said Zorko Jezina, work experience and career education coordinator at Royal.

Over the course of the practicum, students visited Jacobs Engineering in Pasadena, Haas Automation in Oxnard, and Google and software giants Microsoft and Oracle in Silicon Valley, among others. During the visits, students learned about various business aspects from company leaders.

“Each of the businesses we visited touched on a specific topic of business management, whether it’s human resources or finances,” Jezina said.

Last week, the students were divided into two teams during a visit to First Honda of Simi Valley, where they were asked to create marketing campaigns to sell hybrid cars to millennials and women, Jezina said.

“They had to do research and focus on what’s important to both groups when they’re shopping for a product,” the coordinator said. “For example, millennials tend to focus on technology while women are looking at safety features and what’s best for their families.”

Castleman said the two-week course at Royal was intended to gauge the potential success of similar summer practicum programs for other pathways in the future.

“We currently have about 40 students interested in taking the yearlong practicum course in the fall, which will allow the kids to go deeper into all the operational parts of a business through more discussion and classwork,” she said. “In the fall, the students will be working with businesses here in Simi Valley as well as around Ventura County.”

Key to success

Because of the No Child Left Behind Act, primarily a federal aid program for disadvantaged students, there has been a shift “from getting kids to the college door to getting them into the career of their dreams,” Castleman said.

“College, hands-on experiences and internships will provide them with a foundation to get them where they need to be for the rest of their lives,” she said. “This (pathways program) is not your grandpa’s vocational education—it’s about everything from international business to biotechnology.”

In addition, practicum classes will be designed to count for credit at community colleges, similar to Advanced Placement courses, Jezina said. Seventeen of the 20 pathway programs currently offer college credit.

Still, the most crucial part of getting the programs off the ground, Jezina said, is to work with the community and local businesses by bringing in guest speakers and having the students participate in internships, field trips and company tours.

“As we progress through all the pathways . . . having all of that is a crucial part to making this a successful career technical program because (the learning) can’t stay just in the classroom,” he said. “The opportunity provided in the two-week practicum was extraordinary, (and) one of the key things is to open the students’ eyes to those opportunities they can have.”

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