Bristol Bay offers competitive career training
A life-threatening tumor, now treated, was the impetus for pursuing studies to lead to a career in the medical field for high school senior Michael Etuckmelra.
From Pilot Point by way of Manokotak, Aleknagik and Dillingham, Etuckmelra moved to the peninsula at three. Interested in the medical field, he recently attended the business strand of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes in Naknek. "When I get to college, I plan to take all the knowledge and become a MRI technologist," Etuckmelra said. "When I was 12 years old I had a tumor on my pituitary gland. I had a lot of MRIs and I think it's just fascinating how they work. I could help people with bone fractures, tumors and cancers."
Students across the Bristol Bay Region apply for the highly competitive CTE classes offered through the partnership of the Lake and Peninsula and Bristol Bay Borough School Districts.
Bill Hill, superintendent of schools for the Bristol Bay Borough School District, was one of many who recognized the need for CTE classes in the region. "There was a consistent demand from the community for carpentry, welding and those kinds of classes in our community," he said. "There really was not any way of doing that with the school funding that we had. There are some inherent difficulties in career and technical education these days. One is finding a qualified instructor. That is very difficult to do and then, of course, there is the cost."
Liabilities with maintaining shop space and equipment up to standard for a CTE program within either district were restrictive. Pooling resources was the answer.
Hill, who graduated from Bristol Bay High School in 1987, returned to teach in his home district for five years, moved to the Juneau School District for six years then moved back to work for Lake and Peninsula School District. Hill, now in his third year as BBBSD superintendent, began working with the CTE program at its inception.
With state money available to develop a CTE program, key players at Lake and Pen and Bristol Bay Borough School District collaborated to build a CTE program. "That was the idea: if we pooled our resources, we could provide more for our students," said Hill.
Ty Mase, Superintendent for the Lake and Peninsula School District, works closely with Hill and fellow CTE leaders Jack Forrester and Rick Luthi. "Bill Hill and I started the program about six years ago with Charice Arce and then we hired Jack Forrester. These days my role is just promoting the program and finding sustainable funding in a time when funding is drying up," Mase said.
The funding comes from multiple supporters. "We've had funding from Wells Fargo, BBNC, Lake and Pen Borough," Mase said.
Also onboard since the founding of the CTE program was Bristol Bay School Principal Rick Luthi. He is the former Chief Operating Officer for the Lake and Peninsula School District. "My role with Lake and Pen was to travel to the villages quite a bit," Luthi said. "I've been involved with rural education for a number of years. So, after traveling for a few months, I came back and spoke with Mr. Mase and Mr. Hill about a CTE program. I had worked with Jack Forester for a number of years and mentioned what we had and what we needed to better serve our students. Through Bill and Ty and working with Jack, this whole program has evolved and morphed into what it is today.
"We don't have any problems filling any of the slots offered," Luthi said.
The program has continued to grow since 2010. "We are constantly involved in conversations about the program and we can see this thing growing beyond the vocational opportunities," Luthi said.
Career and Technical Education classes to date include, but are not limited to: Facility Maintenance, Heavy Equipment, Maritime, Welding, Small Engines, Culinary Arts and Business/Computers.
As class selections grow so does the area from which students travel to Naknek for the program. "Southwest Region School District is coming on board this year and I am sure that is going to work great," Luthi said. "The possibilities for the future could possibly include other districts. We envision that in the future, other sites could run other CTE strands. A medical strand in the Dillingham area could be a natural fit that we could send students to."
Bristol Bay School senior Tia Thompson moved from Kentucky to Alaska in the third grade. "I really enjoy the CTE class that I am in right now," she said of her welding class. "I enjoy meeting the people who come in from around our area. Turns out I am not a pro at welding yet, but I am working on it."
Thompson's advice for students who are thinking about applying for a CTE class is straightforward. "I would definitely recommend it," she said. "It is definitely a good experience to broaden your horizons and to see if you have the interest and you get free college credit and that's hard to turn down."
Inspired by her older brother, Thompson realizes that more opportunities come to those who try a variety of classes. "My brother did a couple of the CTE classes and now he is in his second and last year at Alaska Vocational Technical Center (AVTEC),"she said. "In the summers, he works full time at NEA, Naknek Electric Association."
Also a senior at BBBSD, Ruth Nashookpuk is currently a student in the maritime class. A veteran CTE student, Nashookpuk, whose father works at the Bristol Bay School, has the heavy equipment, welding, Word and Excel classes on her list of credits. "You make a lot of friends and you have a lot of experiences and earn college credit for free," she said.
"The CTE classes are a benefit to my daughter," said Leslie Nashookpuk. "It gives her skills that she may never have otherwise. These classes will narrow down her choices and she will be able to do what she wants. She can do these classes for a week to see if she likes it and if not, then it's not a waste of time."
Southwest Region School District students Liana Evon and Leah John will attend the CTE construction strand four weeks this school year: one week each in October, November, March and May.
Liana Evon acknowledges that the classes, which will earn her 15 college credits through the University of Alaska Fairbanks, are intense. "There is a lot of information and the classes move quickly," she said.
Leah John agrees. "Everything is interesting here," she said and noted that there are not many girls in the construction classes.
"There are a ton of success stories," Mase said. "We are seeing many students go on to post secondary training and education. Some of these kids may not have gone on if they had not had the CTE training. I think giving a handful of college credits makes college look less intimidating. We also have some stories of kids coming in for training in a strand that they thought they wanted to make a career out of it and they absolutely hated it. On the flip side, that is a success story as well because they know that they do not want to choose a career that they do not enjoy."
More information about upcoming CTE classes is available through Bristol Bay Borough School District www.bbbsd.net, Lake & Peninsula School District www.lpsd.com and Southwest Region School District www.swrsd.org.