Rural Charter School Offers New CTE Opportunities for Students in Salmon, Idaho

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by Kristen McCarver

“Thank you so much for doing this, it’s the first time he’s shown interest in something other than hunting,” said one parent of the new 6-week welding class offered by Fernwaters Public Charter School. Prior to this program, few 7th and 8th grade students in rural Salmon, Idaho were able to engage in career exploration.

Salmon is a community of some 3,300, and is perhaps best known for the recreational opportunities afforded by the town’s namesake river and surrounding wilderness. Salmon is also home to mining, family ranching, and manufacturing, which is why Fernwaters, with the combined support of local businesses and federal grant funding, is excited to launch their Career-Technical Education (CTE) program. Their goal is to expose middle school students to new career fields and skills that they can use in their own community.

Fernwaters serves 56 students in grades 4-8 and is one of a growing number of rural charter schools in Idaho (nearly a quarter of Idaho’s public charter schools serve rural students). Research has shown that overall, rural charter schools in the Gem State have driven significant academic gains for their students.

Fernwaters was among the second cohort of schools to receive funding through Idaho’s Communities of Excellence Federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) Grant. The CSP funding gave the school much needed resources to launch their CTE program and to hire a new teacher – military veteran and retired industry welder Ron Lineback.

Career exploration has more traditionally had its place in high school, as students turn their focus toward future employment. But middle school students can benefit immensely from trying out careers early on, without the pressure of their graduation date looming large. As they develop knowledge and self-awareness, early exposure can help them set goals for long-term success. This, in part, drives Fernwaters’ visionary decision to offer CTE programs for their middle school students.

In a shop space shared with the school by career-focused community nonprofit – the Youth Employment Program – Mr. Linebeck introduced students to shop safety and welding and fabrication basics. Because effective CTE goes beyond technical skills, Mr. Linebeck also focused on teaching important professional soft skills like respect, communication, critical thinking and work ethic. Generous donations of equipment and materials from a variety of local individuals and businesses, such as Premier Technology, Inc., rounded out community support for these students.

Welding is just one option that will be offered through the expanding program on “Extended learning Fridays,” – experiential classes offered outside regular school hours, which will give 6th-8th grade students the chance to try new things like music, or career-oriented graphic design, and more. Rigorous academic instruction during the week combined with career tech opportunities will prepare students to take on college, career, or both.

Fernwaters was also able to offer space in the program to students in Salmon Middle School, and their vision for the CTE programs goes beyond these initial endeavors. Within the next few years, they plan to offer classes for high school students and adults, giving students of all ages the opportunity to explore new careers.