An effort to focus on careers after graduation has resulted in students gaining job skills while performing community service.
Just opposite the surfer statue on West Cliff Drive, Natural Bridges High School students are working hard to restore natural beauty to Lighthouse Field in Santa Cruz California.
In recent few weeks, the students have cleared iceplant, spread mulch and installed a mixture of local native plants.
“It’s a good feeling when you see what you’ve done,” student McKinley James said. Another student, Alora Sebits, agreed. “This is perfect work because I really like wildlife and I want to be a zoologist,” Sebits said. “This is groundwork. I can put this on my resume.”
The habitat restoration is organized by the nonprofit West Cliff Ecosystem Restoration, which has replaced iceplant with biodiverse habitat areas in various locations along West Cliff Drive.
Bill Henry, a group founder, is working on grants that will fund paid work for young people, as well as give them experience in habitat restoration.
That’s the kind of opportunity that makes Carol Polhamus happy.
Project director at Natural Bridges and Ponderosa high schools, Polhamus said she is concerned about the focus on preparing all students for four-year college degrees, when only about 20 percent of Santa Cruz County high school students actually enroll in a four-year degree program.
Meanwhile, Polhamus said she has seen a decline in hands-on and career-oriented classes.
“College is great, but it’s also expensive, and doesn’t necessarily lead to a guaranteed career any more,” said Polhamus. “Many high-paying careers in our county don’t require a four-year college degree, though most do require technical training after high school, such as a community college certificate or apprenticeship.”
Natural Bridges and Ponderosa high schools are in the Santa Cruz Office of Education alternative education program. The schools offer students in 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade career training and hands-on work experiences, while also providing credits toward graduation, so students can make more informed career choices in fields such as agriculture, construction, alternative energy, habitat restoration and computers.
Read more about career-oriented classes
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