Clatsop Community College pioneers high school vocational training in its curriculumTravis Magers is 16 years old, and he's in college.

He is one of about 35 Astoria High School students taking technical classes at Clatsop Community College from college instructors.

The instructors are pioneering automotive and welding programs for high school students. The college has had a partnership with English courses for some years, but this is the first time college instructors have taken over two entire programs.

At the college's Marine and Environment Research and Training Station, Travis is learning about more than just tools from instructors Steve Sanders and Harley Bristol.

Astoria High School student Robbie Larson practices plasma cutting in beginning welding class through Clatsop Community College last week. "It's pretty easy once he teaches you how to do it," Larson says.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian"They respect the students more because they treat us like college kids," Travis said. "They depend on you to do your work on your own instead of telling you to do it."

The programs, along with agriculture, had been housed at the decades-old Area Vocational Center at Miles Crossing. At one point, the center was home to vocational programs for many of the county high schools, high school Principal Larry Lockett said. But slowly, schools dropped out of the program as they sliced their budgets with state funding cuts.

Last spring, at $200,000 a year, the center became too expensive for Astoria School District to operate alone, Lockett said.

For the new arrangement, the district budgeted $120,000. The North Coast Education Consortium, which is funded by Carl Perkins Grants, provides around $29,000 for the programs. Regional coordinator Kristen Lee-Gordon said the goal is to involve other school districts in the college program.

Students have to pass a college placement test. They pay a $30 fee to participate each year, which is a bargain at a college where credits are $50 each. The classes count toward a high school diploma. But students can also earn up to 20 credits toward a college degree or certificate.

"Really our goal is really to have the students see really there's so much to education," Lee-Gordon said.

She said she also hopes students begin to see that higher education is accessible in this county. She hopes the program will eventually include other schools.

For now instructors Bristol and Sanders are working to not lose sleep over this bunch.

Sanders, automotive instructor, said high school and college students have different expectations.

"With the college, they're there because they paid for it," he said. "They already have an incentive to keep going. They're pushing themselves to do this."

But the high school students need more direction and are more apt to negotiate assignments with the teacher. Nearly a month of classes has passed and a quarter of the students are starting to understand the college system, Sanders said.

Welding instructor Bristol has had to find creative ways to make sure the students meet the requirements.

"The big problem I'm seeing is they're trying to establish their independence and there's a little bit of a struggle. They'll challenge me," said Bristol, who owned a machine shop business for several years.

The high school loaned an instructional assistant for those who need extra help. Lockett said he's considering adding another person.

"Not all of our kids are up to speed and prepared to move at the pace that the college curriculum moves at," he said. "We knew that some kids would have trouble maintaining the college curriculum."

Senior Ryan Kelly said the classes are more intense than those he took at the Area Vocational Center. Students must work for the entire class period, he said, as he flipped through his assignments in a file folder as think as his fingernail.

"You don't get to get away with anything," he said. "We just got to do a lot of work."

He said the shop is cleaner and more organized. The 18-year-old hopes to attend a technical school for diesel mechanics in Wyoming.

Sanders said the class has been rewarding as his students have become curious about advanced automotive projects.

"I've been pleasantly surprised with the number of boys who've asked me about building an engine because they've got all the parts for it," he said. "It's kind of a nice problem."

For now, Sanders is concentrating on the basics with the students.

"I love the energy of these kids," he said. "When they get it, it's the best feeling in the world."

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