At one time, they would have lost interest and dropped out of high school.


But now they’re cooking — not to mention repairing airplanes, writing proposals for arts grants or learning to read construction blueprints — as part of the province’s “specialist high skills major” program.


One Grade 12 Toronto student said the experience has turned him on to the idea of being a chef.


“I really didn’t have much interest in high school,” said George Sader, 17, of Don Bosco Catholic secondary. “I thought I’d just barely pass high school. Now I’ve been trying to get 70s and I’m going to more of all my classes.”


The specialist program gives secondary students a hands-on look at a number of different career choices and is being credited as part of the reason why the graduation rate continues to increase, up to 79 per cent for the 2008-9 school year from 68 per cent in 2003-4.

“That’s a really big deal,” said Premier Dalton McGuinty, who visited Don Bosco on Monday to release the new graduation figures — as reported on in yesterday’s Metro — mixing with students making dough for fresh pasta and honey oat buns in its hospitality and tourism program.

The specialist programs — in fields such as construction, aviation, energy and aerospace and offered at 430 schools province-wide — are bundles of eight to 10 courses offered in Grades 11 and 12 and about 28,000 students are enrolled province-wide.

Students also take co-op credits to gain work experience in the field, and also earn any certification — such as CPR — they might need. They job shadow professionals, visit post-secondary institutions and sometimes earn dual credits that give them advanced standing should they go on.