Between the tour of the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station in Niagara Falls, the GPS tutorial at the Canadian Ecology Centre in Mattawa and the Skype conversation with David
Suzuki, the students in the energy-focused Specialist High Skills
Major (SHSM) program at Lasalle Secondary School in Sudbury have had
an intriguing year.
But for many, the program’s appeal
lies not just in the trips, but the variety of career possibilities
it opens up to them.
“(The program) really depends on what
courses you take because there are so many different things you get
to explore and learn about through the SHSM,” Grade 12 student
Amber Tooley said. “So it really helps prepare you for pretty much
any pathway you intend on going into in science.”
Implemented six years ago at eligible
high schools across the province, SHSMs allow students to focus on a
career path that matches their skills and interests while meeting the
requirements of the Ontario Secondary School Diploma. The aim is to
encourage students to consider careers in industries that are facing
serious worker shortages.
SHSM programs are offered in 20
different industries, including mining, energy, construction,
aviation and aerospace, manufacturing and business. To qualify,
students have to take a bundle of nine to 10 credits specific to an
industry, as well as six to eight certifications such as first aid
and CPR, participate in experiential learning activities and complete
a co-op placement. All costs associated with the SHSMs are borne by
the Ministry of Education.
Leo Leclair, the SHSM co-ordinator for
the Rainbow District School Board, said he notices a marked
difference in students who enrol in the SHSM program.
“When they get involved in this
program they’re not only coming for the mining class but they also
realize they have to stay for English class and math class and
history class, because it’s all part of that bundle,” he said.
“And they’re passing, and they’re succeeding, and they enjoy
what they’re doing, because now, if you really think about it, they
also have a purpose for those classes.”
In Tooley’s energy-focused SHSM at
Lasalle, teacher Liane Esau keeps a solar panel at the back of the
classroom that can be taken apart and reconstructed, or hauled
outside to calculate the best angle at which to capture solar energy.
Repurposed pop bottles contain biology experiments, and across the
hall, a motion-sensor water fountain tallies the number of water
bottles the students have saved by using refillable bottles.
They’re all tools she believes enrich
student learning, because they capture the students’ interest,
encourage them to attend class and help them decide if a career in
energy and technology is for them.
“In Grade 10 we start to tell them if
you’re interested in sciences, if you’re doing really well and
you want to take more, the energy SHSM doesn’t mean you’re going
to go into energy,” Esau said. “But if you’re planning to take
more energy and tech courses, it’ll open up some opportunities for
Along with the field trips, Esau
ensures her students participate in “reach-aheads,”
familiarization tours of the local colleges and university, where
they can meet the profs, visit the classrooms and walk the hallways,
so it’s less intimidating for students who may be thinking about
continuing their education beyond high school.
And she’s always on the lookout for
businesses willing to take in placement students who may one day be
building and installing solar panels or running their own business.
“They figure there are going to be a
lot of positions with the Feed-in Tariff program going—they don’t
have a grid set up both ways to accept energy and also to send it up
to homes—so they need a lot more technicians,” Esau said.
It’s hard to quantify the success of
the program, but Leclair said results from a board survey of the 2011
SHSM graduates following high school were promising. According to the
survey, 24 per cent went to university, 30 per cent went to college
and five to eight per cent went into an apprenticeship program or the
workplace, while some returned to high school for a fifth year.
The province sees a benefit too: on
June 11, it announced it would expand the program to 670 schools and
4,000 students across the province.
“Programs like this are preparing our
students to get jobs in fulfilling and exciting industries,”
Education Minister Laurel Broten said in a news release. “Expanding
these programs will give even more students the skills they need to
succeed in the jobs of tomorrow.”
The province credits programs like SHSM
with increasing the graduation rate to 82 per cent from 68 per cent
It’s not clear how colleges,
universities and apprenticeship programs will reward SHSM graduates,
but Esau said Lakehead University in Thunder Bay has already
committed to giving priority rooming to students with the
certificate, while other institutions are awarding bursaries to
For Esau, it’s rewarding to see her
students excited about learning. She now has 29 enrolled in the
energy SHSM, 13 of which are graduating this year. Already some have
decided to go into the energy and tech sectors and are demonstrating
an aptitude for the industry.
“Some students that weren’t
necessarily all that keen about coming to school, who were smart but
weren’t as involved, are becoming involved,” she said. “All of
a sudden it’s a lot more interesting now.”