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Not a popular program, but a good one

With the news that Suffolk is canceling several of its cooperative education programs, including the city’s only co-op in agricultural work, an important partnership between the school system and area employers has suffered a weakening blow.

Citing declining enrollment in the program that gave students academic credit for work they performed at participating farms and businesses, the Suffolk Public Schools system acknowledged earlier this month that it would be suspending some of the programs for the 2011-2012 school year.

Students can, of course, still get jobs, but now they’ll do so — or not — on their own initiative and without official coordination from the teachers who are in charge of the affected vocational programs. The internship opportunities will be gone, though the educational courses will remain.

The change is aimed at the agriculture co-op at Lakeland High School, the marketing co-op at Nansemond River High School and the business and information technology co-ops at Nansemond River and King’s Fork High schools. Students in those programs had interned with automotive dealers, medical facilities and produce or dairy farms.

Sadly and somewhat unaccountably, the popularity of the programs has been dwindling in recent years. School officials can hardly be blamed for getting rid of unused programs, especially in light of the austere budgets that public schools are likely to face as the nation slowly comes out of its recession. It makes little sense to run a whole cooperative education program for only a handful of students.

Still, though, one wonders why students do not see the value of a program that aims to give them both real-world work experience and high school credits for that experience. Especially for those students who do not plan to go on to college upon graduating high school, the co-op experience can provide a vital head start on a career. At the least, participating students got a feel for the types of things that go on in an office, on a farm or in a store, learning a little along the way about what an employer expects of an employee.

Considering the benefits the program offered to students, it’s somewhat surprising that they weren’t more strongly encouraged to participate. Not every student is college-bound, and not all of the rest are cut out for the advanced vocational education available at the Pruden Center for Industry & Technology. The cooperative program offered students yet another choice.

The students themselves may not realize what they’re missing, but the loss of the cooperative education programs will be felt at all three of Suffolk’s public high schools.