A student learns to make angle cuts with a Miter saw

Two new high school courses are being offered this school year in career and technical education (CTE): Construction Academy at Squalicum High School and Cosmetology offered onsite at the former Regis Salon in Bellis Fair Mall. Cosmetology students from Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum high schools are bused to their afternoon class at Bellis Fair.

Both courses reflect high demand fields that are seeing prolonged staffing shortages. Offering these introductory classes is a way to lead students to well-paying career opportunities and to help industries recover from the economic effects of the pandemic and from long-standing staffing issues.

According to Heather Steele, teacher on special assignment working with the district’s CTE program, these courses were developed intentionally based both on student interest and on industry hiring needs.

“We offer CTE classes that align with high wage/high demand jobs in our area,” Steele said. “We look at employment forecasts and work closely with our industry partners and the district’s CTE General Advisory Council. And we listen to student interests to determine courses that support hands-on education and training, career exploration and job and leadership skills while students are still in high school.”


Cosmetology teacher Liesl Vial and her paraeducator assistant Krista Cameron both come from long cosmetology backgrounds.

Vial has had her cosmetology license for over 20 years and spent years working as a stylist. She knew she always wanted to be a teacher so worked to acquire her teaching certificate through Western Washington University while working at a salon.

“This is a fun opportunity to blend both of my professions,” Vial said.

She works as a teacher at Options High School every morning then travels to the cosmetology class every afternoon. As to how it’s going so far she says they’ve received great reports.

“We’ve gotten feedback from counselors, teachers and families that the program has helped some students feel enthusiastic about school again,” Vial said.

Cameron, who works closely with Vial every day in the cosmetology classroom, went into cosmetology straight out of high school which was always her plan. She worked in the industry for more than 20 years, 10 of which included owning her own salon in Burlington. With this new position in the high school cosmetology class, Cameron said she is “…finding the excitement and passion again as I share the knowledge I gained over two decades with those interested in learning more.”

Overall, enthusiasm for the cosmetology class has been overwhelmingly strong. The two sections filled quickly during the high school registration period last winter and they had to restrict access to upper classmen, and then again through an application process when the numbers were still too high. Steele says they hope to expand the program in the future given this high interest.

The palpable enthusiasm of the students helped overcome some of the early challenges of setting up the classroom offsite in a limited space that was set up for stylist chairs and sinks, not desks and whiteboards; staff also had to work with the fixed high school bell schedule and some early transportation issues.

Challenges aside, one of the most important takeaways is that this course “…allows students an opportunity to explore a field that they are interested in and help them make some decisions about their post-secondary goals,” Vial said. “They can determine if this is trade that they want to pursue in the future.”

Construction Academy

The other new CTE course this school year is Construction Academy offered at Squalicum High School. In this course, students learn and explore all areas of construction based on CORE PLUS construction curriculum of the Associated General Contractors of Washington.

The course is taught by Jacob Brouwer who himself grew up in a contractor family and spent many hours onsite on jobs learning to build and remodel; he also spent four professional years in the woodworking industry. In his first gig as a teacher, he also teaches three courses of woodshop and one course of financial algebra.

Like the Cosmetology class, there was a lot of set up needed and logistics to work through to get the class up and running this fall.

“Like anything that is new, there is a lot of work that is taking place in setting up the ‘construction’ workspace for our class,” Brouwer said. “We are working on organizing tools and creating a workspace that will meet the growing demands of this program.”

Brouwer believes construction and woodshop classes are important courses for high schools to offer for many reasons, but, first and foremost, because it teaches a skill that students can use for the rest of their lives.

“Whether as a future contractor or homeowner, students learn skills that they can pass along to others and make an impact on their community,” Brouwer said. “In the class, we learn the business side to the building side and everything in between. Being a contractor takes a lot of hard work and planning and students will be able to leave this class and become better critical thinkers and problems solvers because of it.”

Student enthusiasm is strong for this course, as well. According to Brouwer, students work in teams, plan projects, learn how to use new tools, and, of course, build things.

“I even have students who changed their Running Start schedules just so they can attend Construction Academy,” he said. “Students have a lot of fun in my class!”

Whether an introduction to cosmetology or to construction, these new career and technical education classes help prepare students for post-secondary employment and future educational opportunities, and meets the needs and interests of many of these students right where they are.

In fall 2022, the Career and Technical Education program in BPS high schools offers 67 distinct classes with 845 individual students enrolled in at least one course at Bellingham High School, 163 students at Options High School, 817 students at Sehome High School and 840 students at Squalicum High School.

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