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Pa. tech school switches to full-day program

September 03, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The day before the school year started, Mark Scheitle was concerned that only 87 Chambersburg Area Senior High School students were signed up for the academic program at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center.

By Friday, Scheitle, the assistant high school principal for career and technology students from Chambersburg, was feeling more optimistic because enrollment increased to 106. The number of academic slots was capped at that number Thursday in order to keep class sizes at about 18 students, he said.

"I had to add another world history class and another integrated math class," Scheitle said.

Although the number of Chambersburg students enrolled in career and technology programs increased in the first week to about 330, it still was down from last year's high of approximately 390, said James Duffey, the center's director.

Duffey said, however, Chambersburg's transition to a comprehensive program is working out "better than I would have expected."

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After Chambersburg was forced to abandon half-day, all-year attendance for its students at the center, they now are attending all day for the entire school year - half taking academic courses and the other half shop classes. In the second semester, the students will reverse those roles.

The exception, for this year only, is seniors, who will attend the high school for one semester and the center the other. Next year, seniors also will spend the whole year at the center.

Students from the other five participating school districts - Waynesboro, Tuscarora, Shippensburg, Greencastle-Antrim and Fannett-Metal - attend one semester at their home schools and the other at the center.

After one week of classes, opinion among several Chambersburg students was divided.

"The half-day absolutely stunk because by the time you got into shop, you couldn't get anything done," said Jared Shelly, a junior and agricultural sciences student.

For others, change has a downside.

"I enjoyed seeing my friends over at the high school," said Carrie Russell, a culinary arts students.

"Our friends that don't go to vo-tech, we don't see them all day," said Julie Lake, a cosmetology student.

"It's a brand new program, and we're developing it as it goes," said Ian Jacobs, a learning support teacher. The faculty is staying flexible to meet the needs of students, he said.

Sam Bingaman, who teaches integrated math, said she likes having the students at the center all day.

"To me, it seems that if they spend half their day here and half of their day (at the high school), there's a big chunk in the middle that's wasted," Bingaman said.

Prior to the 2005-06 school year, Chambersburg students attended the center on the same "semester-about" system as the other districts. That changed last year, when the district went to half-day, all-day attendance, a policy aimed at raising the academic achievement of career and technology students by having them attend academic classes all year.

The school board voted earlier this year to continue half-day attendance in 2006-07, but the center's Joint Operating Committee, made up of school board representatives from the six districts, voted to end the experiment. Instead of returning to the old attendance policy, new Chambersburg Area School District Superintendent Joseph Padasak pushed for a comprehensive program at the center, converting four unused shop areas into nine classrooms areas, and transferring or hiring staff and faculty.

Padasak said it will take more than one year to know whether the comprehensive school approach works.

"We've got to give this three years," Padasak said. "We've got to get an entire class through it from 10th through 12th grade."

Learning support teachers are integrated into regular classrooms, and students who have not achieved proficiency standards in math and reading get additional separate instruction, Scheitle said.

Academic teachers work with shop teachers to communicate the relevance of math, reading and science to career courses the students take, Scheitle said. During their academic semester, some students will be able to use study hall or free time to go to their shop classes, he said.

The district has incurred additional costs to the $1.8 million the district pays the center for vocational training, said Rick Vensel, business manager for the Chambersburg Area School District. The district spent $218,000 for construction, furniture and technology in the academic center.

Another $780,000 is being spent on academic instruction of the students, although some of that cost was transferred from the high school, Vensel said. Overall, the district, with the hiring of new teachers, is spending about $380,000 more than what it budgeted for instructional costs.

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