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Rep. Larsen tours career/technical classes


Christopher Andersson

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, left, talks with Arlington High School teacher Mike Gudgeon, right, on May 5 about a geometry and construction class that is surveying part of the school's parking lot.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen stopped by Arlington High School on May 5 to visit some of the career and technical education classes that are offered at the school.

Larsen is the U.S. Representative for Washington's 2nd District, which stretches along the coast from northern Everett to Bellingham.

Amie Verellen-Grubbs, director of career and technical education at the district, said the classes were designed to provide new ways of learning the required curriculum.

"Not all kids learn the same way, but the way we've traditionally set up public education is the 'sit and listen to the teacher' format," she said.

"We knew we had a group of kids that we weren't reaching in that traditional format, so let's change the model so they have an opportunity to learn," she said.

Larsen visited classes that broke traditional models, like the geometry and construction class.

Teacher Scott Striegel said that he learned about the curriculum from a couple of teachers in Colorado who created a more hands-on math class, and he helped bring it to Arlington.

Students learn geometry and then learn practical applications with construction.

"They love it on construction days," said Striegel. "It helps them to get out of their seats," he said.

Recently the class constructed a "Tiny Home," funded by a grant, to be donated to a Seattle homeless shelter.

Striegel also teaches a new class this year that combines algebra and manufacturing.

"It's based on starting a company," he said. "We do a lot of graphing of the business," he added, and that is where a lot of the algebra is put to use in things like profit calculations.

Arlington High School is the first school in the state to teach that curriculum, which is from the same Colorado teachers, said Verellen-Grubbs.

Striegel said that students have to take the same final as they would if they were taking a regular geometry class.

Students said they liked the hands-on experience of the class and added that building sheds was like building a small model of a home, so it was good practice for those who wanted to pursue that as a career.

Arlington High School teacher Chris Whiteman teaches engineering at the school and his students were beginning a unit on creating biodiesel when Larsen was visiting.

"I try to cover all the facets of engineering," he said, including civil, mechanical and chemical.

"The only one I don't get to is electrical, and that is because it's more theoretical and we want practical applications in the class," he said.

At science teacher Michele Wolski's biotech class students learn how the practice of using biological components, such as enzymes, for practical uses.

"There are all kinds of applications, from agricultural to medical," she said.

They also talk about the ethics of the biology they are looking into. "We want to understand the societal implications and that technology does not exist in a vacuum," she said.

The class is currently learning about the Zika virus and doing experiments relating to testing viruses. Future units will include experiments like brining in food to test if it has any genetically modified genes.

Verellen-Grubbs said there are a couple of variables that can be modified to help students, like the amount of support they receive, which is changed through class size, the amount of time students have with the content, which is changed through giving students additional periods to work on the material.

"The variable that really works the most is how the content is delivered," she said.

"Math can be very abstract, and for a lot of kids they need that hands-on, concrete experience," she said.

Focusing on delivering the content differently also gives students a better view of different options after graduation.

"We've had the college-bound/university-bound track, and then everyone else," said Verellen-Grubbs.

"We've really tried to change that because kids can make a very good living wage in a skilled trade," Verellen-Grubbs said.

She added that students that take these career and technical education courses are ultimately held to the same standards as well.

"All kids are being guaranteed the same learning, just in a different way," said Verellen-Grubbs.


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