WILDER, Idaho — Graduating from high school is an important turning point for students to decide what’s next, and for some, it’s vocational technical education.
That’s where the Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency — better known as COSSA — comes in with 10 different programs that offer college credit and professional certifications.
COSSA has served students in southern Idaho for over 50 years. It is both a Professional Technical Education (CTE) and an alternative school. As a cooperative of public schools, COSSA is a joint operation that welcomes students from five districts: Parma, NOTUS, Wilder, Homedale and Marsing.
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Over the years, the list of COSSA Regional Center for Technology and Education (CRTEC) programs has grown and now includes:
- Certified childminder
- emergency medical technician
- Law Enforcement Certificate
- Welding and boilermaking
- culinary arts
- Automotive Technology
- Trade and marketing
- Diesel technology
Brett Poisance participated in COSSA programs for two years and found his love in pre-engineering.
“I’ve been interested in becoming an engineer since I was 8 or 9 years old,” he said. “I just thought, ‘Wow, I can build a bunch of cool stuff,’ and now that I really am, it’s the same reason.”
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Poisance and other pre-engineering students learn to design and build things using 3D printers, computer apps and handheld tools through the program. CRTEC pre-engineering instructor Bert Kirby said he has adapted the program to include apprenticeship opportunities in civil and electrical engineering to better meet the needs of the district’s rural community.
Kirby said his passion for CRTEC’s pre-engineering program comes from seeing former students outdo themselves “in the real world” after graduation.
“A couple of years ago a student went to work at Intermountain Gas, and they love him so much they helped him get his education,” Kirby said. “That’s what I can do for the students – get them good jobs in the field.”
Kallen Parks is one of those graduates, but his career path is moving into welding and metal fabrication. Her post-grad plans include working with a manufacturing company while attending college part-time.
“My favorite part (about CRTEC) is the hands-on learning,” Parks said. “Not just welding pieces of metal, but doing projects and helping others.”
Shelby McRae, a welding and metal fabrication teacher at CRTEC, said most of her students get a job offer as soon as they graduate from high school. Even students who entered the program with no certainty or no prior experience emerge victorious, she said.
“We’ve had students come here, and they’ve never welded before. By the time they graduate, they’ve started their own business and are making a lot of money,” McRae said. “We have students in colleges all over Idaho. From there they will go to work on the pipeline, or they will come back to this valley and work here.”
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Inside McRae’s welding shop, students work on industrial-grade equipment and produce metalwork for customers. The newest addition is a CNC plasma cutter that allows students to cut detailed pieces of metal that they can use for customer orders. By continually updating equipment, McRae said CRTEC tries to give students a real-life experience that will benefit them in the future.
“It’s an industry that’s not going away. It’s only getting bigger,” McRae said. “If we can train children here to go straight into industry, not only will it save them money to go to school, but they will also get an education here that they would have to pay thousands for. of dollars.”
Technically referred to as an “alternative” school, COSSA serves a large population of low-income, homeless, disabled, and English-learning students. But acting superintendent and academy principal Patricia Frahm said “alternative” is an inadequate label for what the school does – supporting students who need it most and developing them into strong adults.
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“(COSSA) is for students that they may be bullied in their high schools, or they may just not fit in, and then they come here and start seeing success,” Frahm said. “A lot of them, once they leave here, come back and visit us. They are excited about their future because now that they have a high school diploma, they have been able to continue and be successful in the society.”
This year, COSSA will host a CTE summer camp for students between eighth and tenth grade. Frahm said the CTE camp will take place in early June and will provide “project-based learning opportunities” in their favorite study. After camp ends, parents are invited to attend a three-hour open house with the program instructors.
“A lot of students don’t understand that these technical career paths are careers. It’s not just CTEs, it’s something that will give them a leg up in society,” Frahm said. “And by the time they retire, they’re in a better position than if they had gone on and gone to college.”