VVHS Students Focus on Career Skills
by Linda Faas
High on the hill above Mesquite, Virgin Valley High School, VVHS, enjoys a commanding view of town. From that vantage point, young people who are learning practical skills such as organic gardening, cabinetry, computer programming, applied math, and leadership are finding their dreams of a good career can come true. An educational revolution is improving the way VVHS serves its students. After many years of emphasis on college as the only path to success, technical training is again being recognized for its solid career value.
A total of nine sets of three-year career and technical education courses provide VVHS graduates with proficiency certificates and/or college credits as they earn their high school diplomas. Graduates use those certificates and credits to move into solid jobs, or shave semesters off the time and tuition spent earning a college degree. For instance, Snow College of Richfield, Utah, works with VVHS to provide woodworking students with college elective credits that count toward a college associate or bachelor’s degree.
When instructor Jon Felix was hired at VVHS, he found a wood shop filled with outdated equipment and a sagging class enrollment. The master woodworker could see that building a classic butcher block cutting board was no longer cutting it to keep students engaged in the age of technology. “Students, you are going to build bedside cabinets for your room,” he told his amazed first-year class. That caught their attention, and the adventure began.
“There is nothing like that sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing they can make beautiful things with their own hands,” Felix says. “It gives them confidence to try and succeed with tough challenges of all sorts. I teach them how to make that cabinet because it is complex enough to keep their interest, easy to personalize with laser-engraved names and logos, and a beautiful, lasting piece of real furniture.” The cabinet is a lifetime testament to its maker’s skills.
Walking into the VVHS woodworking shop today is like visiting a modern furniture factory. Felix has obtained new equipment by applying for federal Perkins Grants and consistently pressuring
the Clark County School District to provide top-notch tools for the willing students to learn how to use them safely and professionally. He points out that each student project requires exacting math calculations, precision handling of materials and tools, and careful budgeting to assure that the project comes in at its anticipated cost.
Students pay a $20 lab fee for each class, as well as the cost of lumber for the project they select. Felix explains, “Everybody learns to estimate the cost of materials needed to build what they want. There are grants available for kids who need financial help.”
The bedside cabinets price out at $60-$100. Advanced projects, built with woods such as walnut, might cost $400. In every case, their finished cabinets would have cost at least twice as much to buy in a furniture store—a life lesson in the economics of do-it-yourself, DIY.
Next door to the woodworking shop, agriculture students busily prepare to grow organic vegetables in the school greenhouse, care for animals, and master the important skills of leadership. These students are proud to carry on the Virgin Valley agricultural tradition. Teacher Jeri Lynn Bunell says, “We are excited that we will team with Star Nursery to offer after-school and summer internships for some of our students.” This is another step in helping young people learn meaningful skills that they can carry into a career or valuable avocation.
Third-year agriculture students participate in leadership training aimed at building abilities of project formulation and execution. Class members organize school activities, such as the recent Career and Technical Education Fair, to help pay for their annual trip to the state leadership conference. Putting together a public event requires work and planning. They made community contacts to publicize the event, wrote a timeline of tasks to be completed, and oversaw the general organization of the fair held on May 2.
On fair night, agriculture students made and sold lovely floral arrangements, and showed off their chicks, goats, and horses to parents and community guests. Mr. Felix’s woodworkers gathered their impressive display of fine furniture in the student center where ribbons were awarded for best work. Student photographers and artists showed samples of their work while the computer lab students demonstrated computer games they had programmed. Culinary arts students offered meatball sliders and other choice treats for sale. The automotive arts students showed off their cars on the plaza.
Gerri Chasko of the Eureka Resort’s Community Initiative, was on hand to cheer on the culinary arts students who are sponsored by ECI. “I really feel good about VVHS,” she said, surveying the student projects. That vote of confidence was reflected in parents’ smiles as they proudly introduced friends to their teenagers who had mastered skills from goats to graphics, lasers to leadership. The students were the stars of a stellar evening where many career dreams came into focus.
Individuals or organizations wishing to support the VVHS Career Technical Education, CTE, program should contact Maury Putnam, CTE Coordinator, at 702-346-2780.