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Teacher, students bemoan loss, admin prepare to offer engineering courses in fall

COURTESY PHOTO: FIRWOOD STUDIOS - Andrew Schaffer, who has taught in the digital media program at Sandy for four years now, has professional experience in the digital media industry. While many at the Oregon Trail School District are excited about a new slate of engineering and sports medicine courses to be offered at Sandy High next fall, the news is bittersweet for several students and parents since another CTE program — digital media — will be discontinued after this school year.

News about the digital media program hit a few weeks ago around the same time the district announced it had been awarded a $125,000 CTE Revitalization grant. With these funds, the school administrationn plan to repurpose an area of the campus to house an Unmanned Aerial Systems classroom with a fabrication and flight/mission control area and purchase curriculum and industry-standard equipment and materials.

The digital media program has offered classes in photography, audio and video production, graphic design, cinematography and more for now about five years.

Principal Sarah Dorn said. "the number of students who forecast for the program," was one factor in the decision to cut the program.

COURTESY PHOTO: PIONEER DIGITAL MEDIA CLUB - Jones and Schutt have said attendance at Pioneer Digital Media Club meetings has taken a dive since the announcement about the program. "Unfortunately, given all of the programs that we offer, this program, by no fault of the teacher — the teacher is fantastic — I think it was at times a difficult program for kids," Dorn added. "We definitely intend for some of those skills, obviously not all of them, to be picked up by our art production program."

The courses to be kept include graphic design one and two.

While district admin, such as Kim Ball, director of secondary programs, are "thrilled to offer these additional CTE opportunities and experiences for students as they hone in on their potential career paths," the teacher and students of the digital media program have expressed disappointment in its discontinuation.

Andrew Schaffer, who has taught in the digital media program at Sandy for four years now, admitted that the program's enrollment was impacted by the pandemic, since during distance learning, many of his classes weren't possible.

However, he said he wished he'd been given "time to rebuild" the program after the return to in-person instruction.

Right now, Schaffer's courses vary in enrollment, with some courses hosting seven students and some nearly full with 28.

"I try really hard to showcase what we make in these classes, to show students it wasn't just TikTok videos," he explained, saying he's put work into regrowing the program this past year.

While Dorn said that she thinks "that kids sometimes feel like the skills they are taught in there are skills that they can teach themselves, unfortunately, via TikTok or Snapchat," students currently in the program have bemoaned the eventual loss of access to classes in video and audio production and more and questioned what will become of the studio space originally built for digital media classes.

Spencer Jones, who identifies with they/them pronouns, said they are happy that as a senior they've benefited from four years of the courses Schaffer has taught, but feels bad for younger students who won't have the same opportunities.

Jones and their fellow senior, Henry Schutt, are the current presidents of the Pioneer Digital Media Club.

Both have taken a myriad of media classes in their time at Sandy, and plan to study cinematography at University of Oregon this fall.

"A lot of the experiences (I've gained in the program), I feel like I can take on to my life in the future," Jones said.

In announcing the new drone engineering program coming to Sandy this fall, district representatives said: "these courses will provide students with an opportunity to earn dual credit through Mount Hood Community College while gaining a wide range of knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience that could lead to high-wage, high-demand occupations."

"The decision was made at the school level, in consultation with the District Office. We looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of Oregon that projects labor needs," Dorn told Sydney Glover at The Pioneer Press. "When making decisions, we also look at the resources that have been invested and the number of students who are served. These decisions are always difficult; however, my goal is to offer the most amount of options for students at every level."

Schaffer said he has spoken with freelancer colleagues in his industry and they have been surprised to hear about the school's decision. From his own research, Schaffer noted that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is showing pay in the digital media industry to be "above average."

"It's probably a hard thing to track because most people in my industry work freelance," he added.

Katie Fisher, who graduated from Sandy last year and now is studying at Mt. Hood Community College, said her digital media education from Schaffer's classes have already helped her enter the industry after high school.

Fisher now works as an editor at The Lincoln Project — a self-proclaimed pro-democracy political action group gaining in notoriety — and she attributes this advancement of her career to the skills she obtained in the digital media program at Sandy.

"Having those classes really gave me an advantage and head start," she explained. "We got to do a lot of projects that other students couldn't do. We got to try out every aspect of digital media. There are a lot of (potential job) opportunities in the program Schaffer is teaching."

Fisher hopes to transfer eventually to a state college to study digital media further.

Jones and Schutt have said attendance at Pioneer Digital Media Club meetings has taken a dive since the announcement about the program.

"People don't seem to see the point of coming anymore," Schutt said. "It's upsetting. Now students don't get those courses anymore. I've done a lot of things, but digital media is something I've found that I really like."

Schaffer, a Sandy alum and professional in the digital media industry, is similarly disappointed.

"I think the things I teach … are beneficial to have in any career," he explained. "I think any industry anymore is going to benefit from people with digital media skills."

When asked if he was likely to stay at Sandy High if offered another position outside digital media, Schaffer said "no."

"My first passion is digital media," he explained. "I love teaching these courses. It's the best job I've ever had. My experience overall at Sandy was great. Sarah Dorn is an incredibly supportive person, and I think she is doing what she thinks it best."

In fall 2022, students will have multiple new engineering program courses to choose from, including Intro to Engineering: Robotics/Drones, Drone Engineering & Design and Drone Mission Planning & Operations.

Oregon Trail district administration have said CTE is a priority in the community. In 2020, 97% of Sandy High seniors who completed a CTE program graduated. Existing CTE programs of study include agriculture, art production, automotive technology, business, computer science, engineering, health science and manufacturing.

Seeking professional advisers

Sandy High admin are looking for volunteers to join advisory committees and work with the different CTE programs. Volunteers can choose which program advisory committee they'd like to focus on, and will be tasked with reviewing outcomes of the programs and matching them to the industry/workforce standards and requirements. The committees meet twice a school year.

Those who are interested should contact Vice Principal Maria O'Meara at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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