Gerry Fragasso, Golden Valley High School's Regional Occupation Program (ROP) medical occupations teacher, gives students what he never got when he graduated from high school -- direction.
"I had no clue what I wanted to do. I bounced around for a while before finding something I liked," he said. "With the ROP program, we are giving students some options, letting them know there is a light at the end."
Fragasso is one of the teachers in the Bridge to Success program, a new summer ROP program sponsored by the Merced County Office of Education and the Merced County Office of Workforce Investment.
The summer class meets once a week from June 14 until the end of July. It teaches students skills relating to either the medical profession or the automotive industry.
Those two industries were picked because of the prevalence of job opportunities in the community, said Kathy Wyman, the program's coordinator and MCOE career and alternative education coordinator.
As part of the program, students get placed in internships at local businesses,
Overall, 107 students from all over the county participated in the program on either track. Although summer classes end next week, the program will continue until April.
During the school year, students will work closely with a mentor to help them finish high school.
In Fragasso's class, students learned the equivalent of Medicine 101 and included skills such as taking people's vital signs, first aid and CPR training, learning about blood-borne pathogens, as well as other medical terms.
Golden Valley High School junior Chantel Nelson practiced taking Gabby Segura's vital signs during Wednesday's class, a drill she does frequently during her internship at the Golden Valley Health Center in North Merced.
Both Nelson and Segura said they plan to enter the health care profession.
"It's good that it's a step in the door to the medical field," Nelson said. "As a teen usually you would work at Taco Bell, so this is much better."
Segura, also a Golden Valley High School student, said she'd like to be a surgeon one day. "I want to help the community," she explained. "Everywhere you go now there's not a lot of people who will help people now -- but I want to be the person who does."
Students receive minimum wage and can work up to 192 hours, Wyman said. Some of the sites where students are stationed for their internships include the Livingston Medical Group, University Surgery Center and Express Health.
"We are giving them the chance to get their foot in the door," Fragasso said. "We're giving them the chance I never had."
The program specifically targets at-risk juniors and seniors as a way to keep them from dropping out of high school.
One of the requirements for being selected is that students must come from low-income families. Other factors could have included being a foster student, Wyman added.
"We want students to realize the connection between academic classes, career technical classes and employment," Wyman said. "This way, students will see the connection between what they learn in school and their future career."
The program was funded by a grant as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
While the ROP program will continue next year, the future of the Bridge to Success program is uncertain.
Wyman said that's because the same funds may not be available.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209)385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.