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TORI STATION, Okinawa — It used to be that when someone heard the words, “vocational education,” images of shop class usually came to mind.

Not anymore. Now it’s called “career tech” and students work with computers and servers instead of lathes.

In DODDS, Professional Technical Studies students are learning the skills of the new century, some of them going so far as gaining technical certifications, paid for by the school system. The certifications can be used to obtain lucrative, entry-level jobs in the computer industry with great opportunities for advancement.

Last week, teachers from across the Pacific met on Okinawa to learn some of the new technology they will be teaching their students. Krista Hurley, PTS program coordinator for DODDS in the Pacific said career education has changed dramatically because of computers and the global economy.

“What we require now is far different from what we used to require,” Hurley said. “We’re responding to a new marketplace out there.”

The DODDS system teaches classes in 11 of 16 of the United States Department of Education’s Career Clusters, a system that breaks down every job in the country and categorizes them based on the skills needed to do a job, and the industry in which it falls.

Each cluster has several pathways with specific classes students can take. Information Support and Services falls under the Information Technology cluster. Other clusters include: Health Science, Hospitality and Tourism and Human Services.

DODDS schools offer the opportunity for students to earn diploma endorsements in pathway areas. However, the course work in each pathway is not as exclusive as a traditional college preparatory program.

More than 130 students in the Pacific are enrolled in the Computer Service and Support class, one of the required courses in the Information Support and Services pathway.

One of the highlights of that class is the ability for students to earn certifications in Cisco networking. The certifications are the first step toward entering a firm that maintains computer networks, or does programming. The jobs, even at part-time, entry level, pay very well.

“A lot of [the students] are doing it so they can make a living while going to college,” said Darren Shaver, a PTS instructor at Kubasaki High School.

Louis Peradotto, a 17-year-old senior at KHS said he feels lucky to be in the program.

“It’s one of the largest-growing job areas in the country,” Peradotto said, adding technology jobs pay very well.

Anthony Castellano, 17, also a senior, said working in a technical field will give him freedom. He hopes to live and work in Spain someday.

Peradotto, Castellano and fellow senior Kardai Porter, 17, have all taken extensive coursework in the technology program. They said the classes require dedication, but it’s worth it. They stayed with the two-year certification regimen even when 40 percent of their fellow classmates dropped out or left Okinawa with their parents.

“We’re not the only ones that want to work with computers,” said Castellano. “You want to start early and get a head start over other people.”

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