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Brampton high school to launch unique trucking program

BRAMPTON, Ont. - For decades now, the education system in North America has been trending towards a change in its approach to learning. Studies have recognized various "learning styles" in students - think visual learners, hands-on learners,...

BRAMPTON, Ont. – For decades now, the education system in North America has been trending towards a change in its approach to learning. Studies have recognized various “learning styles” in students – think visual learners, hands-on learners, etc. – and classrooms across the country have been working to adapt their curriculum to accommodate these styles in new and creative ways. A swell of co-op and apprenticeship programs in recent years has signalled a movement away from purely theoretical academics as educators begin to see the value in career-based learning.

Following this vein, a first-of-its-kind program at a Brampton high school may represent the next step in this educational evolution. Bramalea Secondary School’s Truck and Coach program, set to hit classrooms in the fall of 2012, meshes a variety of learning modes for students interested in careers in trucking.

“For so long, education has been vocational or occupational approaches – putting the square peg in the round hole or the round peg in the square hole. That is not creative,” says Dr. Peter Gibson, vice-principal at Bramalea Secondary School. “When we look at creative education, we need to find out what works for our kids, whether it is a classroom situation, a computer lab set-up, an experiential hands-on situation, or going out on the job in co-op and learning and emulating what they see.”

The new program, working in tandem with the school’s existing Specialist High Skills Major program in transportation, is designed to prepare students to make a smooth transition from secondary school to apprenticeship training, college, university and/or the workplace.

“The advantage of this program is that it applies to students of all pathways and it offers them the chance to do academic theory and book work, because they will be using brand new textbooks for this, they will have a computer lab, an open area work lab where there will be demonstrations, and they will get the opportunity to work on various types of technologies from various truck manufacturers,” says Gibson, a former trucking company owner himself. “We are trying to give them the whole gamut and appeal to as many students with as many different learning styles as possible because it will give them an opportunity to excel in their particular area of expertise even if they have not discovered it yet. And that is what this is – discovery.”

And part of that discovery for students will be deciding which area of the industry they want to focus on – something the program seeks to simplify by offering an overview of the entire transportation industry.

“We are already taking them out into the workplaces of some of our community partners to show them not just technician shops, but also technology and research development, parts depots, distribution logistics centres, and data analysis set-ups,” Gibson says.

“I want to get them out into some of our partners’ business corporate headquarters, for example, so that they can see accounting departments, transportation logistics, and human resources and personnel. I want them to have an overview, when they are finished the program, of all of the components of the transportation business – the industry itself – so that possibly some of them someday may run departments or run an entire transportation system.”

While the program’s experiential learning will have students out in the community via co-op, job twinning, job shadowing, field trips, and excursions, much of the hands-on learning will happen on school property, inside the school’s currently-under-construction $2-million facility. The state-of-the-art facility, slated for completion in the spring, will boast 6,500 sq.-ft., two drive-through tractor-trailer bays (or four truck bays), two computer-equipped classroom labs, and an open lab work area.

“The fact that we can advertise a Truck and Coach program, which is unique in itself – it is standalone and not married to an automotive or car mechanics programs – and has a brand new, very expensive facility that is solely dedicated to this program…my understanding is that there is nothing else in the country like this,” Gibson says.

The program also offers a clearly defined pathway for students as early as Grade 9, outlining the courses necessary to receive their “specialist” seal upon completion of their diploma. The challenge, according to school principal Nancy Chew, will be convincing parents of students that the transportation pathway is the right one.

“We have been talking about, for at least the last 10 years now…that it is okay to go to college or to do an apprenticeship, and that university is not for every student. There is a lot of data now that supports that students that go to community colleges or apprenticeships can be very successful in enjoyment of their job, but also can be financially successful. I hear recently that people in the trades can start off with a higher base salary than people that have a university education,” Chew says.

“I find it interesting that in Ontario we are hearing our politicians say that we have to do more to attract people to the skilled trades. We should be producing those people here in the province, and this program is one step in that direction.”
The program’s timing is excellent for the trucking industry, which, according to many analysts, will be facing a critical shortage of qualified workers in the years ahead. In fact, the program’s key partner, Centennial College, approached the Peel District School Board about setting up such a program in the first place because of dwindling numbers for its School of Transportation.

“A number of schools were interested, but we were selected to take it for a number of reasons including our excellent demographics and location because we are in the middle of the transportation hub for Ontario,” Gibson says.

“I would hope that, when we make this run, that other school boards in the province and in the country will strongly consider this because it doesn’t meet just an economic sector need; it’s much more than that. It is something that can be very fulfilling for students to prove themselves successful. That is what we are after – their success.”

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