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Cardoza likes training program
Congressman Dennis Cardoza was so impressed with his visit last week to the Ceres High School's vocational education program that he wants to bring back colleagues like Rep. George Miller, who is chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, to take a look.

Ceres Unified School District officials asked Cardoza, D-Merced, to drop by and hear the successes of several vocational education program. He heard about the Manufacturing Pathway Program, and the new Manufacturing "Fast Track" Pathway Program Academy. Cardoza also got a short spiel on CUSD's Project YES.

"I'm incredibly impressed," said Cardoza more than once.

The congressman also got a chance to see the new facilities at Ceres High paid for by Measure U bond funds approved by voters in November.

Jay Simmonds, director of Educational Options for CUSD, explained that CUSD has embraced programs of preparing students who have no interest in a four-year college for the manufacturing job market. Manufacturing is expected to expand in the county, he said, offering more than just manual jobs. Simmonds said manufacturing jobs can also include management and engineering.

CUSD works with a number of local manufacturers, such as Gallo, Frito Lay and Kraft Foods to place the students who go through the program.

Deven Shew, who was hired by CUSD from Modesto Junior College, said the Manufacturing Program calls for freshmen to start out in welding, go to small engine repair, to computers and using such programs as Excel. Sophomores will be introduced to Computer Aided Drafting and work on projects as a team. The junior year will center on two projects.

Cardoza drew on his experiences as a dad in seeing his son not fired about learning a subject until he's shown why it's necessary to learn. He said the Ceres program is doing that.

"We have to nurture those dreams - you guys are doing a good job," said Cardoza.

Simmonds agreed with Cardoza that "once they see the 'why,' they'll do it."

Supt. Walt Hanline said the Manufacturing Pathways programs work opposite from what most voc ed programs work. Typically the students are taught skills and then told to go out in the workforce. CUSD went to employers to see what's lacking from the pool of graduate and trains them to meet those employer needs.

Project YES coordinator Dustin Pack told the congressman that his program trains at-risk seniors, graduates and recent drop-outs how to apply for jobs and keep them. Students often have to be educated on the importance of faithfully showing up for work on time and the proper way to call in sick.

"There's actually an issue with clients not knowing how to call in sick," said Pack. "Communication is a critical aspect that we work on."

Cardoza asked Pack if special consideration is given to foster children, for whom he has a passion. The congressman said many children from the foster home system have psychological issues and lack discipline skills. Pack replied that Project YES does identify foster children, which is one of the targeted populations, but said "we do our best not to differentiate." The center, located at Lawrence and Sixth streets, does its best at working on special issues with its clients but they're not excuses.

"The expectations we set are very high for our clients," Pack told Cardoza. "We don't allow them to say, 'Well, I have a record,' or 'I'm a foster kid - there's nothing there for me.' No, no. We still have expectations ... but help them navigate that. Our accountability is very high as well. Clients actually like the fact that we hold them accountable. They may not like it at the time as we're sitting there having difficult conversations with them. But the next day they're back in our office."

Rosie Espinoza told Cardoza that Project YES helped her gain self-esteem and employment.

Cardoza was given a glimpse at how CUSD has used some of President Obama's federal stimulus funds. A countywide youth summer program has resulted in 300 students being put to work through CUSD. The youth being placed into private and public sector jobs, helping the city clean up foreclosed properties and helping churches clean up blighted areas. Each student will work between 280 and 300 hours in the summer program.