TOMAS RIBOTA, SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY OFFICE OF EDUCATION
Feb. 18, 2014
Tomas Ribota was new to teaching when he participated in his first UCCI Institute, but the former Tracy police officer immediately understood the value of integrated curriculum. He hadn't encountered integrated curriculum before, he says, but “once I was there, I thought, 'Oh yeah, this makes sense.'”
“I think the reason I got so excited about curriculum development and integration is because I saw the absolute relevance of connecting 'a-g' courses with CTE courses: because it's so necessary for kids to understand why they're doing these courses,” he says.
Take law enforcement courses, for example. “As a police officer you have to know all the code sections - and it's important to know why they were written, what's the history of the Constitution, the 14th Amendment, due process - you can take off on so many tangents, learn about so many amendments just based on one simple course,” he says.
He adds that challenging English courses are great preparation for a career in law enforcement. Just one reason: “Every law enforcement officer on the planet has to write up their cases.”
The San Joaquin County Office of Education is considering using Journey for Justice as a capstone to a series of history and government courses. Even with non-UCCI courses, however, Tom is always thinking about integrating academic and CTE content. “In my forensic science course we learn biology — we talk about DNA, hair samples — and we can also talk about the history of law enforcement in the U.S., as well as government, economics — where does the money come from: taxation, tax revenues,” he says, “There's a lot of leeway to take kids in different directions with lots of different courses.”
It was a community college criminal justice course that inspired him to go into law enforcement, leading to a 22-year career starting as an officer with the Tracy Police Department and then becoming a criminal investigator with the San Joaquin District Attorney's office. A back injury forced him to retire, but he didn't have to think for long about what to do next. Having coached high school baseball for years, he found it easy to make the transition to teaching. He recently finished his bachelor's degree in social sciences at CSU Stanislaus. “I finished before my son,” he jokes. (Tom's son, Jordan, will get his diploma this spring from University of the Pacific in Stockton, graduating with a degree in sports therapy). Next up for Tom may be a master's degree in public administration.
It is important, he believes “to recognize that these courses are not gender-specific, and that they offer an opportunity for students to make their own connections between their subject matter and employment opportunities.”
He thinks combining CTE with language other than English (UC's “e” subject area) is particularly exciting. “The French and marketing course (Le Francais Trois et Marketing): “A kid can go, 'I can take French while taking marketing?' They can kill two birds with one stone - they need this language for college, but they can see, 'I can go to France, study international marketing ... be a fashion designer!”
Tom says he would like to see traditional CTE courses, like auto shop and drafting, come back. "Those skills are absolutely necessary. Metal breaks! And if I have a degree in economics but can't change a tire or don't know where the air filter is, when those things need to be fixed, I'm either going to do it myself or have to pay someone to do it.”