Congresswoman visits Washougal High, learns about career and technical education programs

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U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA-03) (left), visits with Washougal High School shop teacher Brent Mansell (right) in front of Washougal School District's director of career and technical education, Margaret Rice (center), at Washougal High, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

U.S. Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA-03) visited Washougal High School Wednesday, Jan. 24, to learn about the Washougal School District’s career and technical education (CTE) program.

Gluesenkamp Perez toured the school’s small engines and woodworking classes, and spoke with district leaders, students and instructors about her efforts to support and expand pathways for trades careers.

“The CTE students at Washougal High School are working on some truly awesome projects,” Gluesenkmap Perez stated the next day on her social media sites. “They’re the future of the trades and careers vital to keeping our communities running. Congress needs to ensure we connect young people with these opportunities and help them succeed after graduating.”

Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democratic representative who was elected to her position in November 2022, said she has concentrated on strengthening the country’s skilled trades workforce during her first year in Congress by supporting CTE programs, expanding apprenticeship opportunities, protecting the right to repair, expanding jobs in forestry careers, and introducing bipartisan bills to build awareness of CTE opportunities.

“We definitely are looking to bring more parity (to CTE program funding),” Gluesenkamp Perez told reporters during her Jan. 24 visit to Washougal. “We cannot continue to privilege one form of intelligence over another. These kids have incredible gifts, and we’re squandering them in many cases.”

Glusenkamp Perez visited Washougal High’s career resource center, where she talked with Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton as well as the district’s CTE director, Margaret Rice, and career specialist, Kathy Scobba, about the challenges students face while attempting to secure apprenticeships or internships.

“A lot of the kids will want to know how to get into them,” Scobba said. “For some of those jobs, you need to be 21, so what do they do in that situation? How can we help them?”

She added that Washougal school leaders are trying to help students whose career paths must wait until they are older — citing the fact that police academies don’t accept potential police officers until they are 21 years old.

“So what should they do in the meantime?” Scobba said. “That’s where I’m finding some of the help. We want to help the students that are still on the pathway that they want to be on, help them get into the academy or get the apprenticeship.”

“We have students that would like to get ready and go — and they’re 16 or 17 years old, and we aren’t allowed to have them participate,” Templeton told Gluesenkamp Perez. “They can see (their future), and we’re preparing them for it, but we have to say, ‘I’m sorry, the rule says you can’t go there yet.’ We’re trying to figure out what we can do differently, and we sure could use your support on that as we think about legislation to allow our students to connect sooner with their career path.”

Gluesenkmap Perez, who co-owns an automotive repair shop in Portland with her husband, said she knows a lot of people in the automotive and machine work industries are retiring and that she is “worried about who’s coming next.”

“Getting (students) into the right pathway that develops their skills early and doesn’t turn them away is huge,” the congresswoman said.

Templeton and Rice also took Gluesenkamp Perez to the high school’s commons area, where they met with culinary services chef Jonathan Curriel to talk about the school district’s scratch-made meal program.

From there, the group walked into Don O’Brien’s small engine class to take a look at some of the students’ projects, including a dissected lawnmower that students Samantha Zoeller and Wyatt Weaver were working on.

O’Brien then took the congresswoman to the school’s metal shop, where he showed her more of the students’ work and told her a bit about his 29-year career as a metalworking teacher.

“Twenty-nine years is for real. What made it worth it?” Gluesenkamp Perez asked O’Brien.

“People ask me that all the time,” he responded. “It’s our students. When you have great kids, it’s everything.”

Gluesenkamp Perez wrote in her year-end report that “one of the main reasons (she) came to Congress was to help restore the dignity of the trades and support the career and technical education and apprenticeships necessary for folks to build these good-paying, lifelong careers.”

“I am very interested in some of the work we can do to better support the teachers themselves,” she told reporters at the conclusion of her Washougal visit. “I think we get confused and put the equipment over the people and the investment. In a lot of these trades, teachers leave because they can make so much more on the private market, and having continuity of relationships and reputation in the community (is important). The teachers who’ve been here forever — 29 years in one case — are very well connected with industry and understand what their needs are and work with small businesses. So it’s really important that we’re focusing not just on the capital expense, but on the human inputs as well.”

Washougal’s CTE program features courses in 16 “career clusters,” including agriculture, manufacturing, information technology, finance and transportation, and works in collaboration with business and industry partners to help students fill positions and gain valuable skills.

“Here in Washougal and across the nation, our job in K-12 is to get our children ready and positioned to take that next step successfully, because when they do, out the other side comes successful business owners, voters, leaders and (people who) help families in our community,” Templeton told Gluesenkamp Perez. “We know that’s important.”