CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Fiddling with the mouse and tapping on the keyboard, Keishawn Matthews worked out the kinks on her three-dimensional hourglass.

"It’s not easy at all," said Matthews, 18, a Kubasaki High School senior.

On a recent Monday morning, students in Jon Walden’s computer animation class were fixated on their screens — entering numbers and calculations into a tutorial program that would set the graphics in motion.

The class is one of several offered under the school district’s Professional Technical Studies program — a revival of vocational education that introduces students to prospective career technology fields.

Matthews said the class fits perfectly into her plans to become a video game designer and create role-playing horror games in which female characters are the stars.

"This will help a lot in the future," she said.

Once seen as alternatives for lower-performing students to learn mechanical and carpentry skills for jobs out of high school, technical education has been given a makeover — even by name — to reflect evolving times.

Classes give students a focused introduction to career paths, Walden said.

"You’d hate to see kids go to college for engineering, and they don’t know what it means to be an engineer," he said. "Here’s the time where you can explore."

The updated model makes high school graduates more marketable — for college and the workforce, said Krista Hurley, the program’s instructional support specialist.

Under the Department of Defense Education Activity’s requirements, students must complete two years of program courses to graduate.

Students choose classes from 11 industry clusters, such as architecture and construction or hospitality and tourism.

Students also can receive industry-recognized certification in software programs, Hurley said.

"They come out of it with transferable employability skills that they can put to use," Hurley said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, computer software engineers, network systems and data communications analysts rank among the fastest growing jobs in the country.

And even if they don’t pursue the career path they’ve studied, students said they are still learning invaluable skills.

Senior Xakk Ross, 19, will enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps following graduation.

The troubleshooting skills and attentiveness he puts into designing computer graphics will come in handy in the military, he said.

"You have to keep a sharp eye," Ross said as he recalled a tricky assignment to create a 3-D chess piece.

"The pawn gave me a real hard time. One small mistake, and it looked like a cup with small spikes coming out of it."

Still, educating students for a technology-driven society has its disadvantages, said Walden, who has been a technical studies instructor for 15 years.

Hands-on skills such as soldering circuit boards and sawing wood to make something can get lost in a classroom overrun by robotics and computers. But those tools are still important in today’s workforce, Walden said.

"We’ve adapted well to what’s out there, but we’ve also forgotten where we’ve come from," he said.

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