Castle View students working to help their peers

Apprentice program idea gets district’s attention

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Less than 1 percent of Douglas County students drop out of school each year, but six Castle View High School students aim to drop that figure lower still.

They’ve proposed an apprenticeship program designed to keep at-risk students in high school while they learn a trade. Douglas County School District officials are working with them to make that idea a reality.

The program was inspired by the Center for Civic Education’s Project Citizen, which urges middle and high school students to learn about public policymaking through projects. Its focus on empathy and critical thinking dovetailed with the goals of a sophomore-level class taught by Castle View’s Michael Schneider and Christina Classen.

Six of those students, now juniors, saw a need among their peers.

“We came up with the idea of helping students that are struggling in school find a way to have success in life,” student Madeline Morgan said. “These are our fellow classmates; we definitely care about them.”

For at-risk students, success doesn’t necessarily entail post-secondary education.

“Just because Douglas County is a prestigious school district, college is not really for everyone,” student Gregory Connelly said. 

“They feel like to have to make their own opportunities and find help themselves,” junior Lane Steas said. “It’s not offered to them, like it would be to other students.”

“This is not exactly helping them be on a college track, but helping them to succeed even without a college degree,” Morgan agreed. “You definitely still can be a helpful member of society without having a degree.”

The students presented their idea at the spring 2013 Colorado Project Citizen contest at the Colorado Capitol, earning a second place. At the invitation of Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen, they repeated that presentation to the DCSD cabinet.

Two of the district’s top officials, director of operations and maintenance Bo Bacon and chief operations officer Bill Moffitt, now are working with the student team, hoping to begin implementing the program with the 2013-14 academic year. 

While students hope to rally businesses from throughout the county to offer apprenticeships, potential apprentices may not have to look far. DCSD’s own employees may take them under their wings.

“Our operations and maintenance department consists of professionals that are electricians, heating and cooling (specialists), plumbers,” Bacon said. “They are willing to take on this responsibility.”

The Castle View effort may serve as a pilot for a future districtwide apprentice program.

Schneider and Classen are proud of and amazed by the students and their project, particularly since the class that sparked the idea has long since ended.

“I think that’s what really makes these kids special,” he said. “No longer are they doing something for the class. They’re doing something in all truth for somebody else, because it’s something they found they had a passion for.”

“We want kids to find their passion, to think bigger than themselves,” Classen said. “I am so incredibly proud of these kids. This is what makes teaching worthwhile.”

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