Breaking the gender barrier

February 2, 2009 5:17:08 PM PST
Forget home economics and cheerleading class. A growing number of high school girls are rolling up their sleeves and learning a trade. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Ten years ago in Pasadena ISD, a girl in construction or welding class was almost unheard of. But now some girls are bucking tradition and shooting to the head of the class.

Whether running a power saw, working under the hood or behind a welders mask, some students share at least one thing. When they enrolled in the Pasadena school district's trade classes, they faced some doubters...and sent unwritten gender rules up in smoke.

"My mom was not happy," said Kimberly Sullivan, 17. "My mom was like, 'That a man job'."

It's a job Sullivan loves.

"Just how much of an art it is," she said. "You have to do it, find a way how to do it, you know."

Given the current economic climate, the high school honors students consider welding a stable career choice.

"Welding and metal is always going to be around, so it's always gonna make money," said Sullivan.

Janelle Tello thinks one day running her own auto repair shop will make money, too, and give her the life of her dreams.

"It's like, wow, I want to be a grease monkey. I want to get dirty. I want to get scratched up," she said. "I want to be able to do things that no other girl can do."

And she's well on her way to reaching that goal.

"I can take off the brake pads, change the oil, change the oil filter, take out the starter, take out the alternator" she said.

Ezequiel Garcia, Pasadena ISD's welding teacher, welcomes girls in his male dominated field and admits it creates some healthy competition.

"The guys struggle to keep up with her a little bit," he said. "That's the truth."

Excelling in the classes puts the students on the path to getting professional certifications they can use later in life, which can make the vocational courses even more appealing.

Yennifer Tapia doesn't plan to make construction a career, but admits after taking the course she can help with her brother's business.

"It feels amazing," she said. "He's really proud of me, and it feels really good. "

It feels good, the girls say, doing things for themselves and breaking down gender barriers at the same time.

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