Specialized High Skills Major program at Seaway growing opportunities for students

IROQUOIS – Close to 10 per cent of high school students at Seaway District High School are enrolled in the Specialized High Skils Major program this school year.

There are currently 31 students registered for the program at the school, with six in construction, two in transportation and 23 in the agriculture program.

“Agriculture is the most in-demand one,” said Seaway teacher Robert Knapp.

Knapp is one of the coordinators of the program, along with guidance office teacher Lilace McIntyre and co-op teacher Robin Waller.

The SHSM program is a bundle of nine credits taken in Grades 11 and 12.

Knapp explained that three of the credits are ones students would already have to take in order to graduate.

“They have to take Grade 12 English, and we usually have them take Grade 12 Math,” he said. “All the courses have to have an assignment or section applicable to the SHSM stream they are in.”

Students have to take one other course such as accounting. They also must take a minimum of a two-credit co-operative education course. Co-op is where students learn on the job in workplace settings for the semester. The other four required courses have to apply to the SHSM they are in. Students in transportation, for example, would be required to have more shop classes.

Since the SHSM program began at Seaway seven years ago, courses offered at the school have evolved to use real-world examples applicable to the course. Knapp gave the example of the business accounting course.

“Now one of the examples in the course has students calculating crop costs,” he said. “They can learn the theory, but it is better when they can see something practical and how it applies.”

As part of the SHSM program, students also work to get a minimum of six different training courses or certifications.

“WHMIS, CPR and First Aid are mandatory, then they can take at least three more,” said Knapp. “But we encourage students to get as many as they can.”

Over the past two years students have taken Working with Heights training, Chain Saw certification, Grain Grading, Seed Saving, and Pesticide training.

“Some of these certifications and training are expensive so we encourage the students to take all these opportunities when they are available.”

Area businesses have come on board with some of the training. Eastern Engines Power Equipment in Williamsburg has done a one-day small machine troubleshooting and repair clinic with students.

“It was great for them. They went through with the kids about common problems they may face with equipment and what steps they would take to solve the issue.”

Staff at Seaway have done some training to do the extra training in-house.

“Lindsay Waddell does the soil testing training now,” Knapp said.

Students who graduate having completed the SHSM program can go into one of four pathway specializations: Apprenticeship; College; University; and Workplace.

“Most go the College or Apprenticeship path,” said Knapp.

He added that since Kemptville College closed that fewer students have gone the university route.

“Ridgetown is six hours away, for many it’s not feasible to be that far if juggling farm commitments,” he said.

The SHSM program varies from school to school across the Upper Canada District School Board. Seaway was the first in the board to offer an agriculture stream. The school is now in the application stage for adding a fourth SHSM program in ‘information technology’. The addition came out of the partnership between the UCDSB, South Dundas and Ross Video Limited. It was initiated after last year’s ‘Building for the Future’ school accommodation review process initiated by the board.

“We’re in the approval process now and hope it can begin next year,” said Knapp.