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If you want to understand St. Helena’s only community college campus, don’t think of traditional college classes.

Instead think of the Napa Valley Cooking School, where Barbara Alexander trains young chefs talented enough to land externships at Michelin Star restaurants, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, which has developed into a world-class destination for prominent writers.

Lissa Gibbs worked at the college’s main campus for six years before being named interim director of the Upper Valley Campus in November. She understands that it isn’t supposed to be a miniature version of the main Napa campus, but rather a community-oriented institution designed to cater to the specific needs of the Upper Valley.

Instead of for-credit classes in science or the humanities, the college’s spring semester offers non-credit classes in English as a Second Language, beekeeping, and lifelong learning classes in sewing, painting, creative writing and dancing.

Gibbs wants to continue on that track and build on collaborations with the UpValley Family Centers, Rianda House, St. Helena and Calistoga high schools, and other groups.

The high school partnerships are especially intriguing, allowing high school students to earn college credits by taking classes on their own campuses. Those classes give high schoolers a head start on their college careers, and if they hadn’t been planning to attend college, a class like this might make them reconsider.

The flagship program has been a welding class offered at St. Helena High School’s vocational facilities, but look for more classes like that at St. Helena and Calistoga high schools.

The collaboration makes perfect sense because both high schools operate as feeder schools to Napa Valley College. Of the classes graduating in 2014 and 2015, 14 percent of St. Helena High School graduates and 10 percent of Calistoga Junior-Senior High School graduates enrolled at Napa Valley College the following year.

Gibbs wants to organize a community advisory board to study how the campus can continue meeting the Upvalley’s needs over the long term. That’s a good start, and we also encourage her to meet regularly with major employers and industry groups in the wine, food and hospitality fields – groups like the Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Trinchero/Sutter Home and St. Helena Hospital.

Once the college knows which skills those employers are looking for, it can tailor programs to train students accordingly.

Gibbs talked about the college being a community resource, and that includes its facilities, which are available to nonprofits and other groups. We’re sure there are ways to make better use of those facilities, and solutions should emerge as Gibbs continues her work of listening, gathering data and building coalitions. Promoting the college’s computer lab as a community resource might be a good start.

Between the cooking school and the writers’ conference, the Upper Valley Campus already has two jewels. The recent collaboration with the high schools is building the foundation for a third. But there’s still the potential for so much more.

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