Rancho San Justo teacher John Agan, who has taught at the school for 32 years, uses machinery in the woodshop classroom. Photo: Hollister School District

Local comprehensive middle school students have opportunities to explore interests in such subjects as forensic science, drone flying, digital music and video production, fashion, environmental science, robotics and many more diverse options. 

At Maze and Rancho San Justo Middle Schools in the Hollister School District, there is a renewed emphasis on electives and career technical education subject matter. The programs act as an introduction of sorts, meanwhile, for students who may continue taking such electives at Hollister High School. 

Maze Middle School Principal Diana Herbst recognized the need for more electives when she started in the role four years ago. 

“They’ll be able to make some better decisions on what they want to do in life, their careers, by just getting a taste at Maze and then making those bigger choices when they get to the high school,” Herbst said. 

Maze has taken significant strides forward since Herbst arrived and worked with staff to establish the electives, which have a Career Technical Education focus and include use of the Paxton/Patterson College & Career Ready Labs program. That company develops “modules” offering a wide variety of course options. The principal mentioned how students generally are in groups of two or three and work together on the various modules. 

“It’s basically a scripted program,” she said. “So let’s say they were doing the module of rebuilding a motor. They have to read the script. They have to watch a video. They have to answer questions. There’s an assessment. It shows them how to take apart an engine and put it back together.” 

Herbst noted how a teacher can monitor eight to 10 modules at a time and those modules could last anywhere from two to three weeks each depending on pace. 

Maze teacher Barbara Penney is among the staff members who worked with Herbst to expand the elective curriculum. Penney relayed a long list of elective options for Maze students that also included such subject matter as wellness, sports medicine, veterinary medicine, home maintenance, energy and power, and finance. 

“We really thought this was a great program to bring to our schools,” Penney said. “Not everybody is going to go off to a four-year college. It gives them real life skills they can use and maybe find a career they really enjoy doing.” 

Penney mentioned how the school purchased a module for special education students, as they are not always exposed to traditional electives due to their needs. 

“I want to make sure all of my students have an opportunity to be exposed to the different modules,” she said. 

Maze Principal Diana Herbst and Assistant Principal Emma Veltri are shown in the elective classroom with 3-D printers that are among equipment used by students. Photo: Hollister School District

District Director of Educational Services Colleen Myers pointed out how educators and administrators work together to create a plan and a sequence for electives. She said they collaborate, for instance, on how to fund the programming. Myers said many of the electives are funded through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) grant for eligible schools under the “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” designation based on such factors as student performance data, suspension rates and absenteeism. 

Myers said the variety of choices is a lot more than she had in school growing up. 

“You never know what’s going to be a hook for a student,” she said. 

Over at Rancho San Justo, Principal Antonio Vela noted the school’s elective courses such as art, music, woodshop, industrial technology and AVID.

“We also have a very strong Leadership program,” Vela said while referencing the school’s Associated Student Body/Leadership organization. “It’s very well known throughout the state.” 

Vela lauded teacher Erica Robledo-Dickens for her work overseeing the Leadership program at Rancho. 

He also noted how Rancho staff members are working to open up the same STEM offerings that are offered at Maze. Vela said the music program grew “exponentially” this past year and he expects it to keep growing. 

“For many students, they look forward to their electives every day,” he said. “They can boost confidence in other areas that are more academically focused. It’s hands on and supports needs we have in society that are never going to go away.” 

Those needs include woodshop and industrial technology courses taught by educator John Agan, who has been teaching in public schools for 35 years, including 32 at Rancho. 

“So we’ve been really fortunate to have support from not only our school district office, but school site administration as well,” Agan said. 

He said he feels very strongly that students do need programs like woodshop and industrial arts, among others. 

“Obviously, not every single kid is going to be a tradesman,” he said. 

Agan added, however, that such coursework prepares students to make better decisions as adults on home and auto repairs. 

Agan attributes his success and longevity to his ability to connect with students. 

“Every kid is different,” he said. “Every adult is different. I think the style that works best for me is through the years I try to make a connection with kids the best I can—and realize their strengths and their weaknesses and try to focus on what they need to be successful in my class.” 

Agan estimates he has taught somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 or so students through the years. 

He said he always feels happy when he runs into former students who talk to him about their families or jobs, and occasionally tell him how his classes pushed them toward a trade or owning a business. 

“It makes it all worthwhile,” he said. 

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