KCSOS Alt Ed Receives Grants, Uses Funds to Invest in CTE Programming

Tuesday June 4, 2024

Career Technical Education (CTE) is not just vocational training. For those in Alternative Education (Alt Ed) settings like KCSOS’s court and community schools, CTE programming offers a unique opportunity for growth and is a transformative journey for many students.

With grant funding over the past nearly 15 years, KCSOS’s Alt Ed program has been able to continually improve upon its distinctive CTE offerings. From culinary boot camps to gardening, construction, and automotive classes, there’s something for everyone. The programs also include trade workshops at various Alt Ed campuses, providing students with valuable training and associated industry-recognized certifications.

According to CTE Program Specialist Pam Dobrenen, these grants have been instrumental in expanding the offerings and providing crucial resources to students in court and community schools. The funds are set to enhance key initiatives, including the recent addition of electric vehicle building classes and a new golf cart repair enterprise, offering students not just trade skills, but a pathway to a brighter future. This pathway is supported by both Alt Ed and KCSOS’s Transportation department.

CTE Program Specialist Pam Dobrenen

Students in the gardening program at Redwoods High School.

A Look Back

Debra Plank, co-director of Alt Ed, says that she had never worked with court and community school students upon joining KCSOS. Yet, she had big plans to ensure that Alt Ed students had the chance to receive new and exciting opportunities like other student populations. Now, almost 16 years later, Plank, Dobrenen, and the rest of the Alt Ed staff have made KCSOS’s Alt Ed CTE Program one of the best in the state.

Career and Technical Education began in Alt Ed many years ago with the JobsPlus! Program. The program was created to help provide more real-world experiences to students enrolled in court and community schools. JobsPlus! is an internship program that allows students to gain paid experience within KCSOS departments and in the community. Funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the internships are complemented by a comprehensive senior seminar that teaches essential workplace skills, career planning, and more. 

Students learn construction skills in the Youth Build program.

In 2009, KCSOS received a federal WIOA Youth Build grant to provide construction skills, work-based learning, and support to complete high school graduation requirements for out-of-school, at-risk youth in our community. This experience set the stage for building the CTE programs that are in place today.

More than a decade later, KCSOS Alt Ed CTE staff are regarded as leaders in providing CTE programming to students. They were recently invited to present at the Juvenile Court, Community and Alternative School Administrators of California (JCCASAC) conference. In this presentation, both education and probation staff shared insights into their successful collaborations with Kern County Probation, community partners, and other KCSOS departments, demonstrating the power of collective efforts in shaping the future of our students. 

“We received so much interest and positive feedback at the conference after sharing some of the innovative models we have in place to bring more CTE experiences to the ever-changing populations in our Alt Ed schools,” said Dobrenen. “We focus on shorter, intensive learning experiences and strive to ensure every student graduates with one or more industry-recognized certifications, such as OSHA Safety or ServSafe.”

Students install solar panels as part of the JobsPlus! Program.

A Myriad of Opportunities

Students and Alt Ed staff built an arch for use at CALM’s new wedding venue, The Willows.

Alt Ed is a student-centered option that supports and embraces the diverse needs of students by providing an alternative method of delivering instruction and monitoring academic success. Within the Alt Ed umbrella, there are various court and community school sites that KCSOS operates.

Court school sites operated by KCSOS include Central School, which provides educational services to wards of the court who reside in either the James G. Bowles Youth Detention Center, Pathways Academy, or the Furlough Treatment and Recovery Program, A. Miriam Jamison Center, a 24-hour emergency shelter for neglected, abused and abandoned children, Erwin Owen High School at Camp Owen in Kernville, Redwood High School, located at the Kern Crossroads Juvenile Treatment Facility, and Bridges Academy, located in downtown Bakersfield servicing court-ordered youth in grades 9-12. Juvenile court schools are operated on a year-round, open-entry/open-exit basis, meaning that students will often be enrolled in these schools for short periods of time.

Community schools, on the other hand, offer educational services to students who have been expelled or were referred to the school by a school attendance review board, probation, or requested to attend the school by a parent or guardian. KCSOS operates six community school sites, including Kelly Blanton Ed Center (CLC Tech), the Community Learning Center (CLC), East Kern Community School, Lake Isabella Community School, North Kern Community School and West Kern Community School.

Enrollment in both court schools and community schools is often on a short-term basis, which posed a challenge for Alt Ed administrators when designing CTE programs. Despite the transient nature of many students’ attendance, Dobrenen and teachers like Jack Bensusen, CTE Construction and CTE Culinary teacher, created curricula that provide students with valuable real-world experiences to carry forward.

The Culinary Boot Camps at Redwood High, for example, have set a high standard and are now extending to serve Bridges Academy and CLC Tech students. Inspired by community classes from Bakersfield College’s culinary department, students participate in month-long cohorts, mastering culinary basics and teamwork.

Rebecca Rivera, college & career facilitator, and Bensusen designed these courses and facilitate multiple boot camps each semester. The Redwood High cohorts conclude with a “Working Restaurant Breakfast Event,” where students gain industry-recognized certifications. Top performers move on to support special events and work with The GROW Café, a mobile kitchen trailer funded by a grant.

Students are also encouraged to learn how to grow their own food at various sites, including Erwin Owen High School, Redwood High School, Bridges Academy, and North Kern Community School. For sites with limited outdoor space, hydroponic gardening has been introduced, a technique of growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil. The program aims to add a CTE Agriculture teacher to the team in the coming school year.

“Gardening is more than a pastime; it’s a lesson in sustainability and science,” said Dobrenen. “Alt Ed students across KCSOS’s court and community schools now tend to in-ground and hydroponic gardens – using that knowledge and harvested crops in their culinary classes.”

These gardens are also partially funded by a K16 Strong Workforce Culinary/Garden grant. The project involves hydroponic growing units and teaching greenhouses aligned with Next Generation Science Standards. According to Dobrenen, a component of this initiative is the collaboration with Kern County Aging & Adult Services, where Redwood students train seniors at the W.C. Walker Senior Center in Shafter to build and maintain container gardens.

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Another CTE pathway offered at Redwood High School is woodworking and construction. With construction and trade skills in high demand these days, Redwood High and Bridges Academy have responded to these demands by offering construction classes and trades workshops.

These classes, held across various locations, offer certifications like OSHA and forklift safety. Probation provides additional officers on weekends to allow these classes to take place. The workshops cover skills such as drone building, welding, logistics, and electric vehicle assembly. Students also gain hands-on experience through APEX WoodWorks, a student-led entrepreneurial woodworking venture that has won several woodworking awards at the Kern County Fair. The success of the culinary, gardening and construction pathways within these sites has also prompted Alt Ed to build out its automotive industry pathway.

 At Erwin Owen High School, selected students interested in understanding various automotive systems are offered traditional automotive classes. At Redwood High School, students have learned to build electric vehicles from start to finish. These hands-on classes give students a head start on careers in the automotive industry.

As these programs gain momentum, the additional resources provided by state CTE-focused grants will be used to purchase equipment, secure storage for ongoing projects, and coordinate further educational opportunities for these students.

This strategic use of resources highlights the commitment of KCSOS to not only educate but empower students in Alt Ed settings, providing them with practical skills and hope for a future beyond their current circumstances.

Redwood High School staff from left to right: Officer Holifield, Jack Bensusen, Officer Spratley, Pam Dobrenen, and Rebecca Rivera.
By Jennifer Bryan

By Jennifer Bryan

Jennifer Bryan joined Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2021 as a Communications Specialist. As a creative and motivated marketing communications specialist, she has a special knack for storytelling and content creation. Born and raised in Kern County, Jennifer has worked in major industries within the region such as agriculture and oil and gas before she made the transition to education.