August 23, 2002

For these Students, Summer is for Riding Technology Waves

Exploratory course teaches tech skills and helps connect teens with career interests

As an avid camper, Southwest High senior Paul Barajas has always wondered what it would be like to work at a national or state park. Barajas recently had a chance to find out straight from the source: a park ranger.

Career Call: Southwest High student Paul Barajas listens intently as a park ranger answers his questions about how to enter the field. Students in the Sweetwater District's Workforce Investment Act "In-School Youth Program" have been getting career advice from professionals through a series of teleconferences.

Barajas and his classmates in the Sweetwater District’s Workforce Investment Act “In-School Youth Program” interacted in a live ”teleconference” with an Old Town State Park ranger. The technology-enhanced dialogue was part of a unique course aimed at providing disadvantaged youths with increased computer skills and career knowledge.

“The program gives these students a strong foundation in computer literacy, which is so important in our increasingly high-tech world,” Sweetwater Board President Greg Sandoval said. “It’s another example of how Sweetwater makes a priority of providing every student the tools to succeed.”

The teleconference is the latest in a series of live chats between students and professionals about careers in which the teens have an interest. Student questions included how much interaction Park Ranger Olen Golden had with animals, how competitive it is to enter the field and what inspired him to become a park ranger.

“I really enjoyed it,” Paul said. “All I wanted to know, I got it.” Golden, a 1973 graduate of Mar Vista High, said he comes across mostly migratory animals and the occasional skunk at Old Town. The field isn’t as competitive as say, entering the police or fire departments, but park rangers are sworn peace officers who carry some of the same responsibilities as their police and fire counterparts. His inspiration, he said, came from the frequent time he spent as a youth in Border Field State Park.

While Paul and his classmates have been spending much of their time indoors this summer, they’re learning skills that will make a profound difference in schoolwork and job readiness. The students are mastering word processing, PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets and Internet searches. All of the students come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds. The small student-to-teacher ratio provides the youths-between the ages of 14 and 18-with powerful individual instruction.

The hands-on curriculum has created such enthusiasm that some students are coming to class on Fridays, normally their day off in the summer program. “Last Friday, I couldn’t get them out of here,” said Project Director Liz Garcia. “They love it. They’re learning a lot about technology.”

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