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Unique Electives


In an interview in October, State Board of Education member Angelika Schroeder pondered the importance of teaching students to be better prepared to enter the workforce. It used to be, she said, that kids who weren’t so good at math and science always had a safety net in the “vocational” classes—code for wood working and shop class, the tacitly acknowledged production line for the world’s blue collar workers, birdhouse builders and oil changers.

But these days, assembly line workers—who in the past only needed to be healthy enough to stand for long hours—now have to know about robotics, computers and industrial design, specialized skills that have changed the landscape of vocational curricula. Likewise, with technological developments in communication, the nature of business has changed drastically as well, making the world more accessible. Whereas the idea of entering the workforce with a company based in Dubai or Hong Kong was considered rare and exotic just a few decades ago, it’s now commonplace.

So what’s that done for those vocational classes? For one thing, they are no longer the destination for the less bookish of the student population. In fact, several of the class offerings in the Career and Technical Education sections of both the Boulder Valley School District and St. Vrain Valley School District could be considered required training for many disciplines and a strong step on a variety of career paths. There are many seasoned workforce members who wish they’d taken a Photoshop course in high school, for instance.

Here, we take a look at 10 course offerings available to high school students that would be unimaginable in their parents’ day, but which will set a strong foundation for careers in everything from international diplomacy to app development. Anyone looking down their nose at kids in the vocational classes these days runs the risk of one day being their employee.


Remember when your choice of foreign languages was restricted to French, German and Spanish (and in some cases, the highly useless Latin)? Quomodo odiosis. Today, students can chose from a variety of world languages that, in years past, might never be encountered outside of an art house theater. Arabic, for example, is critical for anyone hoping to work in the Middle East (although, so far, there’s only an introduction class available as an elective). Russian and Japanese classes can prepare you for business and diplomacy, and Mandarin Chinese (see the full article on page 58), the second most-commonly spoken language in the world, is increasingly necessary for international business, considering China’s growing economic power.

Greenhouse Management

Yes, that’s right. In the state that just legalized marijuana, high school students can learn all about how to grow plants. Of course, Amendment 64 only legalizes pot for adults, so there will be no hands-on experience with what will soon become the state’s most famous flora. But students will definitely get their fingers dirty learning about soil, lighting, nutrients and pest management, as well as horticulture business management. The course will put students well on course for a career in nursery management, which, by the time they’re 21, will surely be one of the state’s fastest growing (so to speak) industries.

Forensic Technology

Fans of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation might be disheartened to learn that analyzing clues at the scene of murders and assaults isn’t usually as simple as it’s depicted on television. Students in this one-semester course (which complements the course Introduction to Criminal Justice) will nevertheless learn all of the skills needed to process a crime scene, including photography, evidence collection, witness interviews, preserving the scene, taking notes, filing a police report and searching for clues. Students are also introduced to the related specialties of toxicology, pathology, ballistics, anthropology and serology. They’ll also learn that you typically can’t crack a case in under an hour.

Web and Gaming Applications

How’s this for a perk? The next time your mom yaps at you for playing too much Call of Duty, tell her you’re studying. If you’re enrolled in Web and Gaming Applications, a course that teaches the basics of Xbox coding and flash game design, you won’t be lying. Students will also work on web design with Adobe Flash, Dreamweaver and Fireworks, with the goal of creating an online portfolio, which everyone over the age of 3 will be expected to be able to do within the next decade. In terms of useful (not to mention fun) classes, this one can’t be beat.

Robotics in the 21st Century

Practically nothing in modern manufacturing is made by hand any more, unless it’s at the hands of a robot—about half of all robots in use by industry are used to make automobiles. But until robots can invent more robots, humans will still be able to find work. Robotics in the 21st Century gives students a hands-on approach to robotics through actually designing and building one. The course also explores the use of robotics in business and industry and how robotic devices affect practically every aspect of our lives. Students will form a robotics team and represent their schools in local, regional and national robotics competitions.

Multimedia and Photography

It used to be that photography and “movie making” were the exclusive realm of emo geeks who needed an asocial hobby—more than half of which was spent in a darkened room with dangerous chemicals—to express themselves creatively. Now, taking pictures, filming your cat and sharing the results instantly from your phone to the entire world has made multimedia as much a part of life as breathing. But what sets the professionals apart from the legions of amateurs is an introduction to the fundamentals of design and the tools used to manipulate images and video. Anybody can take a picture, but not everyone has the skills used in everything from journalism to graphic design.

Culinary Arts/Chef Training

With the advent of the celebrity chef and reality TV cooking competitions, food is huge, having taken on the status of art. So it’s no surprise that the “cooking classes” from Home Economics—where an entire generation of parents learned to make meatloaf—have mutated into their own unique course that teaches the basics of food safety, knife skills and preparation of desserts, entrees, soups, sauces, salads and sandwiches. The second year class teaches students to run a restaurant from production to service, as well as catering. And if budding chefs don’t turn out to be the next Gordon Ramsay, the course also teaches barista skills, which will never go out of demand.


If you think getting into agribusiness means becoming a farmer, think again. The agriculture industry accounts for 17 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product and 20 percent of all jobs in the country. It involves a staggering array of regulations, laws, research, transportation, lobbying, packing and shipping. The employment opportunities are equally vast, and students in this course will get a global view of this industry and learn how they can play a part in the food chain.

Computer Information Systems

Anyone looking for a bombproof career path that is guaranteed only to grow as far as the eye can see can do no better than to look at computers…deep into computers. They already run the world, from finance and electricity delivery to transportation systems and defense. Computers allow us to communicate instantly with anyone around the world face-to-face; they’ve changed how we consume media like music, books and movies; and they’ve allowed for advances in medical care that were inconceivable just a few years ago. This course introduces students to computer operating systems, programming, app development, hardware repair, networking and all of the “I’m going to rule the world!” voodoo needed to keep the trains running, satellites orbiting and water flowing. One word of advice: Don’t upset any future Anonymous members taking this course or you may find one day that your debit card doesn’t work.

Starting Your Own Business

Of course the best business to be in is the business you own. But being your own boss is also a shortcut to premature baldness and ulcers, so this course covers the essential artery-saving basics of being a cog in the U.S. economy. Topics include incorporating a business, marketing, selecting a form of ownership, hiring and compensating employees, acquiring finances and planning a profitable exit strategy. Students will actually run their own businesses as part of the course (or compete in a realistic business simulation).


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