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VHS students to prep for green jobs

Vashon students will be able to test the waters of Quartermaster for chemicals, plant native trees in Island forests and study the health of eelgrass beds off Maury Island, thanks to a new effort to prepare Island students for jobs in sustainability and green technologies.

These out-of-classroom activities — which start at Vashon High School this fall — are the first steps towards launching the state’s first high school-level green sustainability and design technology course next fall. While the activities are incorporated into three high school elective courses this year, school officials hope next year to roll out a standalone course with an eye toward preparing students for careers in the rapidly growing “green-collar” job sector.

A $73,700 King County grant awarded to the school district this month will pay for the classes’ field trips, water-testing devices, drip irrigation systems, internship stipends and more.

Vashon Island School District was awarded the Waterworks grant to offer coursework that exposes students to local environmental issues while preparing them for jobs in the environmental sector after graduation.

“I think this will attract kids who don’t even know they love science yet,” said Roxanne Lyons, the school district’s curriculum director. “Kids who may not take a lot of science classes, or who might not see the application of science — they’ll be interested in science in a whole new way.”

The high school’s horticulture, environmental science and marine biology classes will take repeated field trips to outdoor locations on Vashon, restoring the ecosystem or collecting scientific data that can be used by environmental consultants.

“One can look where the health of Puget Sound is heading, ... and it’s not a pretty sight,” said Tom DeVries, who teaches the high school’s environmental science and marine biology classes. “With students aware of what they can do as a career to safeguard their environment, they’re more likely to explore that.”

Island professionals — contractors, land stewards, septic system designers, groundwater specialists and activists — will work with the students in the classroom and in the field, explaining the importance of the environmental issues and the career possibilities that accompany them.

And at the end of the school year, the students will be prepared for summer internships with a focus on environmental sustainability. The grant will pay for 10 students to have internships with local contractors.

Bill Moyer, the executive director of the Backbone Campaign, approached the school district about applying for the grant because he saw an opportunity to educate Island students for environmental jobs.

“Who wouldn’t be excited about getting young people into cutting-edge, green-collar jobs?” he said.

For Moyer, the jobs issue is highly charged. He’s repeatedly heard people argue that Glacier Northwest’s mine expansion on Maury Island benefits the Island, because of the jobs the corporation brings with it.

He wanted to offer up another possibility of job creation, he said.

“There’s a potential for a vibrant green job sector on the Island,” he said.

Staff at the school district recognize that potential, and after this year’s ecologically minded classes, they hope to offer a pioneering green sustainability and design technology course — a program still being defined by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction — at Vashon High School next fall. Development of the green technology course — and other educational offerings with an environmental bent — was funded by the state Legislature this year.

“The goal is that we’ll be the first school district in the state to offer that class,” Lyons said. “This is all our getting ready to teach that class.”

The green technology course, she said, will offer a unique opportunity to students, and one that can help launch them into a job in a growing and critical sector.

“We wanted to think strategically about what would be most valuable for students in the job market,” Lyons said.

“What are the job skills they can learn in high school, and learn them in a way that’s not just reading out of a textbook? This is it — practice and coaching in those specific job skills so contractors are going to be lined up next summer waiting for those kids to do jobs.”

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