WILDER, Idaho — High school graduation is a significant turning point where students must decide what's next, and for some, it's Career Technical Education.
This is where the Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency – better known as COSSA – comes in, with 10 different programs that provide college credits and professional certifications.
COSSA has served students in Southern Idaho for over 50 years. It is both a Career Technical Education (CTE) and alternative school. As a public-school cooperative, COSSA is a joint operation that enrolls students from five districts: Parma, NOTUS, Wilder, Homedale and Marsing.
Over the years, the COSSA Regional Technology and Education Center (CRTEC) program list has grown and now includes:
- Certified Nursing Assistant
- Emergency Medical Technician
- Law enforcement certification
- Welding and metal fabrication
- Culinary Arts
- Automotive technology
- Business and marketing
- Diesel Technology
Brett Poisance has 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 like, 8 or 9," he said. "I just thought, 'Wow, I can build a bunch of cool stuff,' and now that I actually am, that's the same reason."
Poisance and other pre-engineering students learn to design and build items using 3D printers, computer applications, and handheld tools through the program. CRTEC pre-engineering instructor Bert Kirby said he had adapted the program to include civil and electrical learning opportunities to more closely relate to the district's rural community needs.
Kirby said his passion for CRTEC's pre-engineering program comes from seeing former students exceed "in the real world" after graduation.
"One student a couple of years back went to work at Intermountain Gas, and they like him so much that they helped him with schooling," 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 going in a different direction toward welding and metal fabrication. His post-graduation plans include working with a fabrication company while going to 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 other people out."
CRTEC welding and metal fabrication instructor Shelby McRae said most of her students get a job offer right out of high school. Even students who have entered the program unsure or without prior experience leave victorious, she said.
"We've had students who have come in here, and they have never welded before. By the time they graduate, they have started their own business and make great money," McRae said. "We have students in colleges throughout Idaho. From there, they will go work on the pipeline, or they will come back to this valley and work here."
Inside McRae's welding shop, students work on industry-level equipment and produce metalwork for customers. The most recent addition is a CNC plasma cutter that allows students to cut out detailed pieces of metal that they can use for customer orders. By continuously updating equipment, McRae said CRTEC attempts to give students real-life experience that will benefit them in the future.
"This is an industry that is not going away. It is just getting bigger," McRae said. "If we can train kids here to go straight into industry, not only is it going to save them money on going to school, but they're also getting an education here that they would have to pay thousands of dollars for."
Technically labeled as an "alternative" school, COSSA serves a large population of low-income, homeless, disabled and English Language Learning students. But interim superintendent and academy principal Patricia Frahm said "alternative" is an inadequate label for what the school does - support students who need it the most and grow them into strong adults.
"(COSSA) is for students that they may get bullied in their high schools, or they may just not fit in, and then they come here and start to see success," Frahm said. "Many of them, once they leave here, come back and visit. They're excited about what their future is because now that they have a high school diploma, they have been able to go on and become successful in society."
This year, COSSA will host a CTE summer camp for students between eighth and tenth grade. Frahm said the CTE camp would be in early June and offer "project-based learning opportunities" in their preferred study. After the camp ends, parents are invited to attend a three-hour open house with program instructors.
"A lot of students don't understand that these career technical paths are careers. They're not just CTE, it is 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 went on and got a college education."