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Course encourages girls to explore skilled trades

All Girls Tech
Posted on 10/07/2019
girl with saw

Sierra Oulevey was interested in trying her hand at carpentry and auto repairs in high school, but if it meant having to go into a class that was predominantly boys, not so much.

But when she found out that St. Joseph’s Catholic High School was offering a section of Grade 9 course called Exploring Technologies that was exclusively for girls, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and this seemed like a really fun way to do that,” said Oulevey. “If it was all boys I wouldn’t have done it. I just wouldn’t feel as comfortable.”

School boards including the WECDSB have been doing everything they can to promote careers in the trades and encourage girls to enroll in tech courses, but many of those classes still only include just a smattering of young females. A reluctance among many of them to sign up for a course when they know it will consist mainly of boys persists, according to David LaBute, Principal at St. Joseph’s.

“The message is getting out that it’s acceptable for girls to go in to trades, but the reality is that there still is that intimidation factor,” he said.

As soon as it was announced that the school was offering an all-girls tech section, it filled up almost immediately, Labute said.  Maya Fuerth was one of the girls who signed up, but said she probably wouldn’t have if it was a co-ed class.

“This gave me an extra push because I knew I would be with other people like me and it wouldn’t be as goofy as it tends to be at this age,” she said.

The course is divided into three sections: construction, where they learn basic carpentry skills; automotive, where the basics of vehicle maintenance are taught; and design, where the girls will get an introduction to such concepts as computer aided design (CAD) and drafting.

While the girls are in the construction section, the two other groups – which are predominantly boys – are in auto and design. Each group rotates through all three sections throughout the semester.

Gary Regnier teaches the auto portion of the class, and says he’s always been impressed by the handful of girls who have taken his course in the past. He says he’s looking forward to teaching the all-girls group when they finish with the carpentry section.

“Typically the girls come in here and do just as good if not a better job than the guys,” he said. “They handle the academic portion of the course very well, they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty and they come in excited about it. Hopefully it will continue in to the senior grades, and for some of them it will open their eyes to a career path.”

Ryan Coop, the school’s new Construction Academy teacher, said it’s that idea of helping to fill the persistent skilled trades gap that was a motivating factor behind creating an all-girls tech class.

“You’re never going to satisfy the need for skilled trades unless you access the other 50 per cent of the population,” he said. “It’s primarily men and it needs to be women too.”

The school plans to encourage girls in the course to continue taking more sophisticated upper-level tech classes as they go through high school, Coop said, and they will do everything they can to keep as many of them together as possible as they move up.

Coop added that he hopes in the near future to see 50 per cent female enrolment in the Construction Academy, a program for students in Grade 11 and 12 which sees them earn both apprenticeship hours and a coveted red seal designation. Keeping the girls together increases that likelihood, he said.

“Having all the girls together just gives them a little more confidence,” added Regnier.

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