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New 'Future Labs' program gives Beaverton middle school students hands-on opportunities to explore careers

The program gives students a chance to explore the trades and different career paths before they hit high school

PORTLAND, Ore. — There is a big push to expose younger students to the trades and a variety of different career paths. Traditionally, high school students would have opportunities to explore electives like welding or woodworking but now middle school students in the Beaverton School District will have that opportunity.

This year a new program called Future Labs rolled out at all the district’s middle schools. The idea is to expose kids to career and technical trades when they’re younger so they have more of a chance to figure out what resonates with them.

“We like to broaden the picture of what success looks like after high school,” said G Douglas Bundy, a teacher in the Beaverton School District. Bundy is technically a teacher on special assignment and is overseeing the new Future Labs program.

It has launched in all nine of Beaverton’s middle schools.

“Picture a lab that has 20 totally different curricula happening at the same time and you're not doing the same thing as the table next to you,” Bundy said.

“Each activity is a 10-hour deep dive that students self-direct through with a partner, with lots of hands-on engagement," he said. "Things like structural engineering, there's like engine repair, architectural drafting, culinary arts, it's kind of a wide gamut.”

Because so much work and planning is involved in the program, while it’s being offered at all the middle schools in the district, for its first year only eighth graders are participating.

Bundy said for decades emphasis on CTE (career technical education), has taken a back seat with parents and educators often pushing students toward a four-year college education.

“I think we are all part of a very well-intentioned effort to give our kids success and that has been the narrative for a long time, has been a prestigious four-year university, right out of the gate,” Bundy said.

But college isn’t the right fit for everyone.

“They [students] don't know that these are viable careers. In many cases, are high paying, high demand, creative and fulfilling work,” said Bundy.

“Everybody thinks you got to get a four-year degree to go make a lot of money. Well, it's not necessarily the case,” Tanner Scott said.

Scott is a former Beaverton student who now works for Vigor Industrial in North Portland.

“I'm part of the project management team here at [the] ship repair facility,” he said.

Scott said in recent years, there haven’t been enough younger people choosing to go into trade professions. But the trades can be lucrative. He said he’s able to support his family with one income and often, people can get paid while they’re doing on-the-job training.

“If we can kind of help guide some kids toward trades a little more that don't necessarily want to go to the four-year path, everybody would be doing a lot better,” said Scott.

That’s part of the goal with Future Labs, to open up the world of possibility for kids instead of employing a one-size-fits-all approach.

“The goal of this experience is just to figure out, do you like that thing over there,” explained Bundy. “[We’re] giving them permission to explore something that either they didn't even know existed or maybe they never thought was for them.”

Bundy said the program also took into account what former students said, that exposure to different trade and career options came too late in their schooling.

The Future Labs middle school activities are tied to opportunities students can further explore in high school.

Other districts have undergone similar efforts in recent years. For instance, Salem-Keizer Public Schools started a similar pilot program at Walker Middle School in the 2018-2019 school year, which soon expanded to other middle schools.


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