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33 March 2014 | Professionally Speaking students who are not engaged by the academic curriculum? "Our schools have done a good job when it comes to academics. But not nearly so well over the years with practical skills," says Education Minister Liz Sandals. "SHSM addresses that need with- out forcing students into a strict vocational mould." Sandals adds that SHSM's success is based on a recognition that students respond differently to the education system. "By the time kids reach high school," she says, "they have an idea where their interests lie, but they need choices about learning styles." SHSM offers the option to students to focus their studies and explore a future career, and it has changed some lives. At the same time, SHSM is designed to appeal to all education streams. "Traditionally, a skills approach ruled out university," says Mary Jean Gallagher, an assistant deputy min- ister with the Student Achievement Division in the Ontario Ministry of Education, "but SHSM serves all paths. It's intended to make school worthwhile for those who might be left behind and prepares all students for future success. It's just as important to help kids who don't go to university as it is those who do." A related SHSM goal is to improve the province's high school graduation rate, and Sandals credits SHSM with being a factor in driving that number up from 68 to 83 per cent over the past decade. "Part of the reason for its success," says Sandals, "is SHSM focuses on kids who might have struggled and now can see alterna- tives to the pure academic path." In addition to a mandatory co-op placement and taking courses in their program area, each SHSM student must meet other requirements to earn the Red Seal certificate awarded SHSM gradu- ates. Plus, they have to earn relevant sector-recognized certifications in courses such as first aid and CPR. Students also visit workplace and postsecondary educa- tion sites and get in-school training from professionals in their chosen field. And they must demonstrate skills and work habits expected for their chosen sector, including how to present themselves at job interviews and proper manners in business-social situations. The SHSM package "transforms the way students learn," says Mark Hunt, OCT, principal of Ridgetown District HS in Ridgetown, Ont., Lambton Kent DSB. A big believer in the value of "authentic education," Hunt is an avid SHSM cheerleader. "In the SHSM ap- proach, knowledge information flows in both directions," he says. "It could be an aspect of the ideal future for education, province-wide." Ridgetown serves a local Aboriginal community, and Hunt says an Arts and Culture SHSM aimed at this constitu- ency has not only made Aboriginal students more engaged, but also has transformed the school. "Native and non-Native groups have a better understanding of each other as well as the parents and community members," he explains. "It's been a godsend." The school's other SHSM is in agriculture. "That's a no-brainer because we are an agricultural community," Hunt says. Both programs are transforming the way students acquire knowledge and skills. "By interacting with non-educa- tors, the students are developing new ways of learning," says Hunt. "They bring back knowledge to the classroom, validating the outside learning experi- ence and educating the teachers who then become co-learners. The kids ob- viously prefer that to just sitting and lis- tening in the classroom. As the students gain knowledge, they breathe new life into the course materials. At the same time, their self-esteem goes up as well." All in all, these are useful educational outcomes, essential to handling those 21st-century challenges. Or as Linamar Corp.'s Hassenfratz put it: "We should have 100 per cent of the students go through that program. The worst case is that you learn something that can actually get you a job." PS Grade 11 students (l to r) Amanda, Dontae, Asaalah and David all take the Hospitality and Tourism SHSM program at Thistletown CI in the Toronto DSB.

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