“People always say, ‘oh you like to work on cars? But, you’re a girl.’”

“Yes,” the Park High School junior would reply. “I just look at them and say, I am a girl and I love to work on cars.”

Carla Sanchez has her dad to thank for that.

“I am really close with my dad,” Sanchez explained. “Growing up I was always curious about what he was doing. I would touch his tools and ask him questions. Eventually, I was old enough to stop watching him work and start working with him.”

So when Sanchez entered high school there wasn’t really a question about the types of classes she would take — it was more a question of how many could she take.

“I quickly began looking for experiences as an automotive student,” Sanchez explained. “My teacher, Mr. Kobriger, told me about a Youth Apprenticeship opportunity at Modine and I said yes right away.”

This winter, Sanchez began that youth apprenticeship at Modine. She works in the Thermal Lab where she gets hands-on, real-world experience.

“It is so interesting and every day I am there I learn something new,” Sanchez said. “Right now, I am working on controlling environments as we test certain products.”

Youth Apprenticeship Program

In 1994 RUSD launched its Youth Apprenticeship Program. The program is part of a statewide School-to-Work initiative. It is designed for high school students to get hands-on learning in an occupational area at a worksite along with classroom instruction. This one- or-two-year elective program combines academic and technical instruction with mentored on-the-job learning.

Currently, RUSD has 60 youth apprentices working at 37 Racine-area companies including Modine, Racine Metal-Fab (RMF) and Oak Ridge Care Center, just to name a few. Since 2007, the district has graduated 529 youth apprentices from 157 employers.

“The Youth Apprenticeship Program builds talent locally,” Tom Burke, president and chief executive officer of Modine said. “You bring in these students at a young age, let them know what the company is all about, teach them what we do and why we do it and strive every day to build confidence in them.”

It’s a program Burke feels strongly about. So strongly, in fact, that in 2014 Burke stood up at the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce (RAMAC) dinner and challenged local companies to start a Youth Apprenticeship program in their workplace.

“Historically, I didn’t think we were doing a nice job as a society for building this track for career opportunities,” Burke explained of his decision to challenge the Racine community. “But I knew that everyone could agree that getting it built back up is very important and that starts with young talent.”

Racine Metal-Fab

“I hear him loud and clear,” Dean Popek, chief financial officer for Racine Metal-Fab (RMF) said, sitting in a conference room one February afternoon, four years after Burke made the plea. “After that dinner I came back to work and said, we need to start a youth apprenticeship program and we need to start now.”

In the last four years, RMF has had a youth apprentice each year.

“We took on a manufacturing and engineering apprentice that first year,” Popek explained. “Since then we’ve learned, gotten better and grown our program to what it is today.”

Just ask Case High School senior Taylor Schneider. This fall, Schneider started his youth apprenticeship working with and assisting RMF’s manufacturing engineers.

“I have worked since I was 15 years old,” Schneider explained. “But I always wanted to do something different because I needed an experience where I would be learning for my future.”

At RMF, Schneider works with new products, making sure the drawings are detailed and appropriately annotated.

“If it weren’t for this, I wouldn’t have had a clue what this all entailed,” Schneider said. “Classes are great, but they don’t give you on-the-job experiences.”

At schools

Classes at school are changing, too.

“The Academies of Racine have really opened up so many opportunities for my students,” Alexander DeBaker, one of Case High School’s Career and Technical Education teachers said. “Now, RUSD high school students are becoming more engaged in project-based, relevant learning. Not only do we work to prepare them for their future in the classroom, but we give them opportunities outside of the classroom to get real world experience — and that’s priceless.”

In fall 2016, Racine Unified launched the Academies of Racine at Case, Horlick and Park high schools. The Academies are designed to ensure students are better prepared for college and the regional workforce.

In changing the curriculum, developing small learning communities and better connecting with local businesses and organizations, the Academies help students graduate with a plan. Within the Academies are specific Pathways, such as Culinary Arts, Engineering, Marketing, Automotive Technology and Construction, among other specialty areas based on high-demand careers.

“You can feel the energy,” Burke said. “With the Academies of Racine and RUSD’s building momentum, it’s the right time as we create futures for young people and address challenges employers face of getting young talent.”

That’s why, in collaboration with Higher Expectations and RAMAC, RUSD is championing a new goal: 300 workplace opportunities for the class of 2020.

“This is self-help time,” Burke said. “We have to get involved and help create good workers. This is not the time to complain. It’s a time to engage and the Academies of Racine are our link to do that.”

So, as the graduating class of 2020 crosses the stage, 300 graduates will be turning their tassels with real job experience under their caps.

And if Sanchez and Schneider are any indication, the future is bright.

“I am proud of where I am going and I can’t wait for more,” Sanchez said. “This is the beginning for me.”

“This is self-help time. We have to get involved and help create good workers. This is not the time to complain. It’s a time to engage and the Academies of Racine are our link to do that.” Tom Burke, president and chief executive officer of Modine

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Community Coordinator

Loreen Mohr is the community coordinator for The Journal Times.

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