It was still raining as we parked in the visitor space at Dubiski Career High School. We ran across the parking lot avoiding the rain as best we could and stood just outside the entrance way to shake the rain off our umbrellas (the umbrellas were a gift from Lisa Karr at HEB). The building was imposing; it was a modern multi-story glass and steel structure. Similar to Hurst-Euless-Bedford Buinger CTE Academy, it looked like a high tech office building and not a high school. Once inside, we proceeded to the main office where we were greeted by Beth Rustenhaven. Beth was charming and full of enthusiasm about her school. The first thing we noticed was the four story spiral staircase that was the central feature of the building. At the base of the staircase was the “Ring of Honor” where student projects were on display for the students, teachers and visitors to admire. Every two weeks, the display changes and a different cluster showcases their work. During our tour, a variety of commercial staircase design models were on display from the Architecture program. As we walked around the staircase toward the student cafeteria, Beth gave us an overview of the school.
Dubiski Career High School is a four-year public high school of choice composed of ninth through twelfth grade students who apply to one of four Colleges: College of Business, College of Health Science, College of Engineering Technology and Arts, and College of Communications. The four colleges offer 13 career pathways for students. Dubiski also provides students with opportunities to participate in several advanced programs within the school: earning college credit, project based learning, paid internships, and participating in career and technical student organizations (CTSOs). Beth told us the school is very active in career and technical student organizations including SkillsUSA, HOSA, FFA, Business Professionals of America and DECA. As a matter of fact, every student is registered as a member of SkillsUSA. Students are often so involved with their pathway there is no additional time for school sponsored athletics.
The 248,000 square foot school is the result of a $67 million investment (building plus program equipment) supported by local elected officials, community/industry leaders, and tax payers. The school houses 1,610 students with a total minority enrollment of 87% and economically disadvantaged students making up 70% of the total student population.
One thing we immediately noticed was the student dress code. Students are required to represent themselves as if they were at a place of business requiring business casual attire, which means no blue jeans. Specific uniforms, distinguished by cluster, must be worn in the lab at all times. Students have an opportunity to wear jeans 6 days a year that benefit a charity or community service. Students must donate $2 for each jeans day. Another thing that became readily evident was the school’s cell phone policy. With cell phones being a part of everyday life now, there was a compromise at Dubiski during class exchange. They are allowed to use them and listen to music but have to abide by the “One ear for me; One ear for you” rule. Even though they are allowed to use their phone periodically, each student is taught to follow a professional phone use policy similar to what a business would adopt.
Upon leaving the cafeteria, we headed toward the College of Business wing on the first floor. As we walked across the atrium, the first thing we noticed was a line of students at what I would have at first glance assumed was a Starbucks®. It was indeed a coffee and drink shop run by Culinary Arts students. As we would learn, Dubiski has several student managed and staffed businesses. Directly across from the coffee shop was a student managed CTSO store, which stocks CTSO uniforms, materials and gifts. Beth told us the student run store did over $100K in business the previous year.
Next, Beth took us to visit their Cosmetology program which has the largest custom salon in Texas. The classroom salon was indeed huge. Once in the classroom, we were greeted by a Classroom Ambassador, students selected through an interview process who exudes confidence and leadership chosen to represent their pathway, who took us on a guided tour of her facility. The student informed us that the salon was open to the public on a regular schedule and students must complete over 1,000 hours of instruction, preparing them to sit for the state cosmetology license. Everyone was dressed in profession garments and if you did not know any better, you would assume this was a commercial salon. Once again, I was somewhat at a loss in this salon environment, but the women on my team loved it. Listening to our Classroom Ambassador, it occurred to me, that using students to conduct classroom tours encouraged them to learn everything about their curriculum and gave them valuable practice toward public speaking and interaction with the public. This is a great method of building student confidence and will serve these young men and women as they eventually enter the workforce. As we left the salon, we thanked our Classroom Ambassador and walked down the hall toward Culinary Arts. In the hallway was a series of windows looking into a commercial grade kitchen. Here the students were not only learning food preparation, they were managing and staffing a full function catering business, which was open to serving the public. This classroom environment was developing students to not only perform in a kitchen, but the skills necessary to start or run a business of their own someday.
Next on our tour list was a visit to an engineering classroom where students were designing and building a prototype underwater robot. The robot was built from PVC tubing, which you could find at a local hardware store, and included propulsion, micro-computer control system, and a live video camera. Students built the robot to aid search and rescue teams in avoiding flood water hazards such as submerged barb wire fences and other obstructions that could entangle divers. I loved the robot. It was elegant in its simplicity and used off the shelf components that the students used to build a relatively low-cost effective solution. It was very cool. We later learned that the prototype robot was put to use in another area high school training emergency responder students. Since its creation, several first responder groups across the state have requested additional robots to be made for their rescue missions.
As we continued on our tour, Beth took us to visit classrooms in Architecture, Electronics, and Media Production. Here students were designing a new landscaping plan for the county animal shelter, video arcade games, and producing television quality videos for the school. Every class had a Classroom Ambassador who took over for Beth as soon as we entered the room. Everywhere we turned the students were working on team projects involving a team leader, project management planning, and group presentations. Our Classroom Ambassador informed us that as part of their curriculum, students practiced business and engineering skills in order to better prepare them for their careers after high school.
Our last stop on the tour was the Graphic Communication which is in the College of Communications. It was amazing; here students were running a public facing print shop as part of the career readiness preparation. In a previous part of my work history, I had a 25 person print shop reporting to me, so I had a great appreciation for the activities we were touring. As we walked around the shop, we saw students engaged in design and pre-press functions, offset and digital printing, and finishing operations. The students were also designing and silk screening tee shirts. I had an opportunity to sit down and get to know two of the communication instructors, Kevin Walker and Gloria Trevino. During our conversation, we talked about the students, classroom management and the challenges some of them face at home. I asked if they ever had disruptive students in their classes and if so how do you manage them. Both instructors commented that they rarely have any issues and most incidents are settled quickly with a reminder of professional courtesy to the other students. I wanted to know more, so I asked about their student successes. Both instructors smiled and began to point to the walls and bookshelves covered in plaques and trophies the students had won at state and national competitions. They talked about the demand for their graduates and the positive feedback they get from industry hiring their students. You could tell from the way they talked and smiled they took great pride in preparing their students for both college and the job market. One story really struck home to me; both instructors talked about a Hispanic student who would occasionally disrupt their classes. After having a tough love session with the young man, he confided in his teachers details of his home life. He was the only member of his family to not have served time in prison and he desperately wanted to go to college, but needed to work to pay for his tuition. The instructors allowed him to volunteer in the print shop after hours on public orders to avoid getting caught up in crime. The young man not only graduated from Dubiski, but earned a scholarship and is now attending college. Additionally, he found employment based on his print shop experience to help offset his college expenses. As the story of this particular student was shared, I was once again impressed by these two instructors who were literally changing the lives of their students. These two heroes not only have an impact on their program but on an individual, a family, and a community.
The normal school day at Dubiski was coming to an end, so we said our goodbyes to Beth and thanked her for being such a gracious host during our visit. It was still raining as we left the school building so we ran across the parking lot to get to our car. Once we were safely on the road heading toward home, we reflected on our observations and impressions of our visit. The first impression that we noted was the business manner of the students. We were impressed with the way they dressed for work (school), the oral presentation and soft skills they demonstrated as Classroom Ambassadors, the job knowledge in their technical areas, the teamwork, and the respectful and friendly way the students treated each other and their instructors. These young men and women will graduate high school with more than a diploma; they will be equipped with the skills necessary for a successful future.