Pre-trades program requires 'regular; attendance, gives 'students; pick of employment

Great job prospects keep kids in class


If you want to find a classroom full of students at Kugluktuk High School, head over to a small room located off the workshop.

At 9 a.m. nearly a dozen groggy students are in their seats, waiting for their two-period math class to start. By 9:15 a.m., books are open and students start to tackle geometry problems.

They've turned up at school on time – unlike most other students in this absenteeism-plagued school – because they have to be there.

If they don't come to school, they risk being kicked out of the pre-trades program, a three-year-old pilot program called "trades in a box" that combines exposure to the trades with academics.

The goal of the program: to prepare students from Grade 10 to 12 for trades training so they will be able to pick and choose jobs in mining or construction. Students receive exposure to many different trades including drafting, carpentry, welding, small engine repair.

To produce trades people, Lee Olson, a Kugluktuk pre-trades teacher, says Nunavut high schools need to introduce students to the trades as early as possible.

Students must attend school 60 per cent of the time to stay in Kugluktuk's pre-trades program. If they can't maintain that level of attendance, they receive a warning and then need to show a 75 per cent attendance level to say. Some pre-trades students manage to achieve 100 per cent attendance.

The tight group and packed schedule of classes, shop work and on-the-job experience helps create a feeling of belonging that supports student attendance, Olson says.

In the first year of the pre-trades program, Olson says he had 10 students. He's lost only one student, who became pregnant for the second time. Despite upheavals at home, most show up every day.

"It's tough for them," Olson says.

But he's beginning to see the results, although he says he knows the pilot project won't solve "all the problems of Nunavut."

In Grade 12, students take the Alberta trades entrance exam, which he expects most will pass. Students may write the exam until they pass it, so those who fail the first time may try again with no penalty.

To get into an apprentice program, they need to score a 70 per cent mark on the exam.

Judging from teacher Barbara Panioyak Olson's blueprinting class, pre-trades students are able to produce impressive results, such as detailed blueprints of a house addition. When these pre-trades students graduate, they will also be equipped to study engineering or architecture.

Olson encourages his pre-trades students to think about continuing their studies at college. A trip to Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton offers a taste of college life and also lets them job-shadow to find out which trades interest them.

In Kugluktuk, students work within the cramped confines of Kugluktuk High School's cramped shop, not much larger than a regular classroom.

The best Olson can say about this shop is that they have all the equipment they need and everything works. A bigger, better-ventilated shop, like the one inside Cambridge Bay's Kiillinik High School, would help.

But last year, Kiilinik's shop could not be used to its full potential because it lacked essential electrical wiring. Frustrated with the Government of Nunavut's lack of action on finishing the wiring, the shop teacher resigned at the end of the school year

The $1-million shop is finally operating. All the equipment stored in boxes last year is now out in the shop, safely plugged into new metal-clad wires that run up the side of the walls. A huge ventilation system churns out fresh air.

But despite the school's state-of-the-art shop, built to lure the students into the trades, Kiilinik is still searching for a way to teach pre-trades to students.

Of the four students enrolled last year in a trades preparation program, only three remain this year. One talented student started working in Alberta without passing his trades exam or receiving a high school diploma. He's now working in Cambridge Bay where his skills as a mechanic are in demand, even though he has no trades certification.

But the new shop teacher Jacques Gagnon isn't giving up. At Kiillinik he works with students on practical projects, such as ulu-making and the construction of a kayak, a project assisted by physical education teacher Ben O'Hara.

Teachers at Kiillinik say they want to find new ways – "outside the box" – to teach the academics that pre-trades students need, develop a new way of teaching that fits the school's modern design, "build enthusiasm and go from there."

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