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CTE programs fill skills gap for students

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Chacelynn Urquhart, a junior Cedaredge High School student, knew early on that she wanted to pursue architecture after graduating high school. Thanks to CTE, or Career Technical Education, she's getting her foot in the door early.

"I'm motivated for what my future will be and felt I was able to learn and see if this was the right path for me," she said, referring to the computer aided drafting course she's taking. With this course she, along with seniors Devin Glidden, Sawyer Carey and Tyler Saunders, are learning the engineering design process and get hands-on experience with drafting through modern computer technology.

The opportunity to take this course comes as part of CHS' Skilled Trades and Technical Sciences pathway, available because of CTE. CTE programs are also present in Delta, Hotchkiss and Paonia high schools.

How it Works

Essentially, CTE is a national program designed to provide students with access to curriculum that guides them in a chosen pathway for future careers. Students can test the waters while earning certificates, such as with CNA training, receive real world experience through job shadows and internships, and take specific courses to prepare them for a certain career.

At the national level CTE uses a "Career Clusters" framework for organizing and designing curriculum. Currently 16 clusters in the framework represent 79 different career pathways. These clusters "function as a useful guide in developing programs of study bridging secondary and postsecondary curriculum and for creating individual student plans of study for a complete range of career options," according to careertech.org.

Colorado bases its state CTE standards on this framework with modifications based on workforce needs. In particular, the Career Clusters are grouped to create six industry sector clusters:

• Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy

• Business, Marketing, Government and Public Administration

• Health Science, Criminal Justice and Public Safety

• Hospitality, Human Services and Education

• Skilled Trades and Technical Sciences

• Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Arts, Design and Information Technology.

Current programs available throughout Delta County include agriculture (DHS, CHS, HHS), business (DHS, CHS), pre-engineering (DHS, CHS, HHS), health (DHS), journalism (DHS) and commercial art and design (HHS, PHS). Other programs in the works are health (CHS) and a multi-occupational pathway (DHS) that facilitates individualized, developmentally appropriate programming inclusive of students identified as special populations.

Each high school has specific courses in its schedule that align students with a pathway, then juniors and seniors can take additional courses at the Technical College of the Rockies.

As an example, CHS' Health, Criminal Justice and Public Safety cluster provides a pathway toward careers in health science like biotechnology research and development, diagnostic services, health informatics, supportive services, and therapeutic services.

Students then take certain courses at the Technical College of the Rockies like medical assistant, dental assistant and EMS, depending on their goals.

Rebecca Thatcher, pre-collegiate counselor for the Delta County School District, is also the CTE administrator. Before transferring to Delta County she worked in another district as CTE administrator for 15 years. She said the teachers involved in CTE are credentialled and have extensive educational and occupational background.

Twice a year a majority of the area CTE programs meet for a business advisory meeting. These meetings allow the program heads to come together and discuss their needs. Meetings also encourage mentoring.

Because CTE has rigorous standards they check to make sure their curriculum is up-to-date.

At its recent March 20 meeting, each program listed its five year plan and needs. For example, the business program at CHS was new last year and thus it's wanting to get more curriculum and provide students opportunity to learn Quickbooks.

"I want to give students a good foundation," said CHS math and business teacher Anthony Lambrakos when asked his goals for the Business, Marketing and Public Administration pathway. "Ideally they'd learn what business is like, what to expect and understand that it's hard work."

At the meeting CHS explored adding sports medicine, the idea of which came from Bruin Time. Athletic training was a huge interest.

Physical education teacher Cutter Garrison thinks this CTE offering would expose students to sports science and exercise physiology.

Providing Skills
and Satisfaction

A major benefit to CTE is that it provides students a head start. Many programs feature certifications students can use to get a job to help them pay for college or start their career straight after graduation.

If students realize a career isn't for them, this is also an opportunity to be redirected to a better fit for their future. For example, some students

may pursue a CNA certification and realize its their dream to become a nurse. Others may decide after clinicals to never step into scrubs again, or use it to earn a higher wage while pursuing a different college degree.

According to careertech.org, 81 percent of high school graduates earn at least one CTE credit. Their research also cites that "students involved in CTE are far less likely to dropout of high school than other students." One reason for this statistic might be due to an increased satisfaction students report through their ability to learn real-world skills.

However, one challenge identified at the advisory meeting was sustainability and funding. CHS agriculture teacher Katie Greenwood pointed out that additional and successful CTE programs can burden existing ones in terms of funding. For example, FFA requires large contributions each year to function and adding in an FBLA chapter as part of a business pathway may spark competition.

Another challenge is for schools to have compatible software for certain programs like CAD. Carey and Saunders struggled with the computers at CHS not being as powerful as the ones at TCR, leading to slow load times and sometimes even lost data due to incompatibility.

Currently students in CAD go to TCR two days a week, though they wish they could go more if not for travel costs. Regardless of these challenges though, all four students in the program said they've learned something tangible they feel will help them in their futures.

If students enroll early enough, like Carey and Urquhart, they can even specialize their second year in the program. Carey is specializing in mechanical engineering while Urquhart will specialize in her future, architecture.

"I was originally just looking for more classes and saw CAD as a good fit, though I didn't know what it was at first," said Glidden. "I'm extremely glad I took it and noticed that the CTE programs provide a good challenge, giving us a good head start and ability to explore something different while in high school."

Read more from:
Surface Creek
Career Technical Education, CHS
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