Graduation rate data from the state of Oregon is unambiguous: students who take career and technical education classes are much more likely to graduate on time.
For example, last year in Benton County students who took at least one CTE class graduated on time at a rate 7 percent higher than students who didn’t. In Linn County, students who took at least one CTE class graduated on time at a rate 9 percent higher than their peers who didn’t take a CTE class.
This figures held true across the state, where on average students who took at least one CTE class were nearly 10 percent more likely to graduate than those who didn’t.
The effect of CTE classes on graduation rate becomes even more pronounced with students who take multiple CTE classes: statewide they graduated on time nearly 92 percent of the time; a massive leap compared to the state’s average on time graduation rate of under 77 percent.
And since 2016, when Oregon voters passed Measure 98, which dedicated funds for expanding CTE courses, college readiness and dropout prevention programs, many schools in both counties have been using Measure 98 funds to offer more and enhanced technical education classes.
But a group of teachers in Corvallis is concerned that girls are missing out on the opportunity to benefit from classes like these.
Amanda McBride, a Linus Pauling Middle School teacher, said in her science, technology, engineering, art and math classes she has about 90 students — and only 25 of them are girls.
Katelyn Burwell, a Cheldelin Middle School teacher, said she has a similar ratio of girls participating in her STEM classes. And in her advanced STEM class with 30 students there is just one girl.
Kevin Skillings, Corvallis High School’s industrial education teacher, said in his introductory level woodshop classes of 30 students, he often has only three to six girls.
This situation prompted McBride, Burwell, Skillings and Crescent Valley High School engineering teacher Adam Kirsch to team up to offer a hands-on afterschool wood shop camp for sixth-grade girls to introduce them to STEM education earlier and make them feel more comfortable choosing those courses as electives later. Last week a group of about 30 girls, mostly from Linus Pauling, met at CHS for the “Women of the Woods” camp. This week, around 30 girls from Cheldelin will meet at Crescent Valley for the camp’s second iteration.
Burwell said she and McBride came up with the idea for the camp near the start of the calendar year after realizing how few girls were taking their classes.
“We’re trying to get them introduced to it early so they’re not scared of it,” Burwell said.
Burwell said these may not be fields women are traditionally well-represented in, but the students at camp last week were very receptive to the lessons.
“It’s maybe not a traditional thing a girl would pick, but we want them to be like ‘yeah, we can do this too,’” she said.
The program was funded by a $5,300 grant from the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation, a district official said, which mostly covers stipends for the staff who put in the extra hours to teach at the camp and materials for the projects the students did.
Students in the camp last week made cutting boards by cutting and gluing boards together with biscuit joints, sanding and finishing them and using a computer laser to etch designs into them.
Isabel Kirby, a Linus Pauling sixth-grader, said after the camp she thought it was more likely she would take a STEM or woodworking class.
“I’ve never really gotten to do woodworking. It seems like the kind of thing not a lot of girls get to do, and we should get the opportunity,” she said.
Isabel said using power tools was one of the most memorable parts of the class.
“Using power tools was definitely scary at the beginning, but once you get up to it and your friends are doing it, it’s not so bad,” she said. “After you get over the fear, it’s really fun.”
Daisy Lake, a sixth-grader at Linus Pauling, said she participated in the camp because she likes getting her hands dirty.
“There’s so many reasons (she signed up). It would probably take me all day to list them,” she said.
Daisy said she has wanted to build a chicken coop for a long time and has even sketched designs for one, and she’s hoping to convince her dad to work on it with her.
“Being able to make things is really important,” she said.
Daisy’s friend and fellow Linus Pauling sixth-grader Karina Alvarado participated in the camp with her.
“People say girls can’t do this stuff, but here we are proving them wrong,” Karina said.
Burwell said the camp organizers want to offer it again next year, possibly at a different time, since the end of the school year is a busy time for school staff.
Josefine Fleetwood, director of the Pipeline program, which was created by the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and works with schools throughout Linn and Benton counties to help students prepare for careers in the skilled trades, said Pipeline often has events aimed at introducing girls to these fields.
“We’re trying to encourage more underrepresented people to participate in construction and manufacturing because there is such a huge demand nationally for skilled trades and these are high paying jobs,” she said.
Pipeline is planning an electrical training boot camp for girls in Tangent this fall, a “Women, Metals and Manufacturing Day,” in January and a “Girls Explore” event series in next spring.