Island high schoolers can take criminal justice class on Vashon

Vashon High School students interested in crime scene investigation, law enforcement or security can get a jump start on their careers this fall by taking a criminal justice class that is being offered on the Island for the first time.

Students will analyze crime scenes, explore the ins and outs of the court system and work closely with lawyers, detectives and other professionals.

“There are a lot of job opportunities in this field — it’s not one that has been hugely dented by the economic downturn,” said Susan Shields, director of the Puget Sound Skills Center in Burien. “It’s for every kind of student: anybody who’s interested in fingerprinting or forensic science, for those who may want to go to law school, for anybody who wants to work at the airport.”

The class will take place on Vashon, but it will be offered in partnership with the Puget Sound Skills Center, which is devoted to “career and technical education” — formerly called vocational education. Criminal justice is one of 17 classes taught at the Burien center, which Islander Leslie Perry, a retired principal, said has “practical classes.”

Shields, Vashon High School principal Susan Hanson and other Islanders worked to bring the criminal justice class to Vashon, as part of a new state-funded effort to offer classes like it in “remote and rural areas.” Because one must take a ferry to get to Vashon, it qualifies as both, said Hanson, and will become a “satellite campus” of the Puget Sound Skills Center.

Vashon was the recipient of a 2008 state grant “to expand the reach of skill centers to serve underserved and hard-to-reach communities,” Hanson said.

The Island will house one of the first “satellite” skill centers in the state, and officials are currently seeking an instructor to teach the course.

Though criminal justice is the only career-minded course that will be available through the Puget Sound Skills Center on Vashon this year, officials hope to expand the program over the next few years. They’d like Vashon students to be able to take popular and much-needed classes like culinary arts or green technology someday — without taking a ferry.

Hanson said the new course will add to a “rich” array of career and technical education classes already available at Vashon High School. From jewelry-making to architectural design, the school has about 20 classes with an eye toward helping students discover their passion or prepare for “life after high school,” she said.

“The mission of a public school is to teach the entire student, so you want to provide opportunities to grow intellectually, emotionally and physically, and high school is also a place to try out new things,” Hanson said. Career and techical education courses provide those opportunities, she said.

“The majority of the classes are exploratory classes to help students examine various career paths and get some first-hand information,” she said of VHS’s career and technical education offerings.

The criminal justice program will go even further, giving students an intensive, yearlong exploration into the topic. It will be a two-period block after lunch.

Only 20 students may take the class, but a minimum amount of students must sign up for the class to be offered. An informative meeting on Monday explained the program to those interested in it, who must register for next year’s classes this spring.

“I’m so excited,” Hanson said about the program. “I think it’s going to serve our students well.”

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