Thursday, August 4, 2016

What Are You Thankful For Today, Mrs. Smith?


What are you thankful for today, Mrs. Smith?

You all know that I am a teacher. I do deal with young people on a regular basis and sometimes, they frustrate me, but sometimes, I’m completely blown away by them and by some of the things they say or do.

Last week, I was at a teacher’s conference. I was privileged to get to work with and learn from some amazing State Officers in a Career & Technical Student Organization. The guys and gals are so well behaved and so “with-it” to be only 16 or 17 years old. On the morning the conference started, these young people were down stairs before 7am, they had already had breakfast and were ready to work. “What can we help you with, Mrs. Smith?” And even though it was way too early for all of us, they each had a huge smile on their faces! As the morning wore on and things began to get a little hectic, one of these beautiful students stopped me and asked me, “Mrs Smith, can I ask you a question?” “Sure, baby girl, what is it?” I answer her. With sparkling eyes and a beautiful smile, she asked me, “What are you thankful for day, Mrs. Smith?” In all honesty, I was blown away. One, because this question came from such a young person, and two, because I had honestly not given any thought to a single thing that I could/should be thankful for that morning. I smiled, in my heart, and on my face. Then I thought, what am I thankful for? I told this young lady, “Today, I am thankful for the air that I’m breathing, that I was able to get up out of bed, that I’m here with you all, for your smile and for your attitude, and mostly, for the fact that you reminded me to take a moment and be thankful and to express that thanks.” That moment, that one question, from the twinkly eyes of a teenager, completely and utterly changed my day for the better and it stayed that way.

I had to give a speech at this conference and I felt like (others might not have agreed, but..) it went well. I was pleased with myself. The workshops that happened that afternoon all seemed to go really well. The Awards Banquet that evening, went even better. The guest speaker talked about a guidance counselor whom he had in high school. She’d told him that all he was ever going to be was a forklift driver. Well, he was just that for a time, but that job driving a forklift eventually landed him as part of a senior management team at a huge worldwide corporation. He told us that he never got to go back and thank this guidance counselor. She’d passed away before he realized what an impact her words made to him. He said he’d love to tell her “thank you,” and that made me remember that question from earlier in my day. I didn’t get a chance to tell my drafting teacher how truly important he was to me. I tried, but I never came right out and told him so. But I got an opportunity later on in the evening to have another thankful moment.

I was getting ready to leave the ballroom from the awards banquet and I ran into a gentleman I’ve known for 24 years. He was the principal at the school that my fellow Virginia National Officer was from, when we were only 16. I did a lot of traveling that year, where this gentleman was involved. I’ve seen him many times in the years since. Last year, he was sick, and we were all afraid that we were going to lose him.  Thankfully though, he has healed and has been back to several events recently. He came the other night to help present an award, an award that is named after him, to a member of the conference. Anyway, we stood in the doorway and talked for a bit, until my heels started killing me, so we sat down and talked a bit. While we were there, another gentleman that I’ve known for 25 years, one whom I have stayed in touch with and who has encouraged and even somewhat pushed me, gently, into some of the things that I’ve done since becoming a teacher, well, he sat with us. While we were sitting there talking, another gentleman came by. I’ve known this man for 24 years too. He was my bus chaperone when I went to Louisville KY as a 16 year old, twerp of a kid, to run for National Office, and he is also on the board of this conference with me. I had one of those very thankful moments, sitting there, with these three gentlemen, whom I have so much respect and admiration for. I cannot describe that feeling. To be surrounded by the wisdom that they have, but really, just to have time to appreciate them as the friends and people that they are and to realize in that moment, just what they all mean to me. I did take that opportunity to thank them. And I thanked them again publicly on Friday in another speech. There’s never any way that I can ever repay them for the confidence and encouragement that they’ve given me, but I can always continue to thank them and to be thankful for the role that they’ve played in my life.

With that moment and the moment with the student earlier in the day, I hope to try to always remember, each and every morning, “What are you thankful for today, Mrs. Smith?”

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

My Refuge

My Refuge


I never knew that a “place” or a structure could hold so much comfort in it. The comforts of going home is one thing. There is no place like home - as long as it is truly a home. But the peace and solace that I’ve found in going to the barn, is indescribable - although I’m going to try to describe it here.

Three years ago this past month (planning for it started before, but we actually started construction in July), we decided we’d build a barn. I had “visions” of what kind of barn I wanted, but I knew that my Dom Perignon dreams and my Pabst Blue Ribbon budget were two very different things. My husband knew the general shape of the barn that I wanted. And with little more than a couple sketches in the dirt with a stick and a quick drawing on the CAD system to check roof pitches, we started building a barn. He’d told me that the barn would be a different place and that he couldn’t describe it, but that I’d see once we got it finished and the horses living in it. It took us two years and four months to get it to where we could put the horses in it, but he was most definitely right. It did become a completely different place.

We can honestly say, that almost every nail driven in that barn and every board that was cut in that barn was done by us. We had help with two of the big poles and then we had help with sheeting the back and the lower side. Other than that, construction, including the grading, was all done by just the two of us. We learned to cut rafters using a construction square. We made stalls, we made a storage room, we did it all! My husband even built the sliding doors by himself and with the help of two of our grandkids, we managed to hang the big door and get it all working.

By the first winter, all we had up was the middle section, flooring in the loft, sides on the loft, rafters and tin on the roof of the loft (but no ridge cap), posts for the outside of the stalls in the ground, and like 5 rafters and their bands on the lower side. When we baled hay that fall, we stored all the hay in the bottom part of the barn, on pallets, and surrounded the stuff with thick plastic and covered in tarps. It served the purpose, but it looked like a portion of Noah’s Ark, not really a barn. Slowly that next spring, we got rafters cut and placed for the lower roof side, and then even more slowly, the upper roof side. That April, we had two young fellas from the Building Trades class at my school to come out and help us do some work. In two days, we had the back sheeted and the lower side sheeted. Over that summer, we made progress with the siding and the rafters on the upper side, and had some of the inside started. April of last year brought the big front doors. By May last year, it was really starting to come together more. You could see where the stalls were to be and we’d even started lining them and building the doors. We got the power and the water run down there and hooked up. Steadily, the power outlets got hooked up and the lights came on. Stall doors and windows were fixed and hung. We’d even gotten to enjoy the occasional evening of sitting in the barn and enjoying the quiet during the summer. Then feed buckets were bought and hung up and water tubs moved in. Pine flakes were put on the floors of the stalls. The fencing outside was rerouted so that we could move a horse in and out from the barn to the lot. Mid-November 2015 brought the move-in day for the three boys and the cat! It was so nice to have the three horses inside, where feeding was done in one foul swoop, watering was a 5 gallon bucket toted into their stall, and hay consisted of tossing a bat over into their stall. The goal we’d started two and a half years before had finally come to fruition.

Structurally, the barn, was and has always been sound, but physically, spiritually if you will, the barn was now alive! When I say “alive,” I don’t mean that the wood or metal was a breathing, living thing. It was still wood and metal after all. I mean “alive” because having those animals in there brought life to the structure and gave it a purpose and a true sense of being! Walking in the doors and smelling the smells that come with having horses in a barn, and hearing the noises that they make, those moments are priceless. The peace that comes from sitting down in the breezeway and just enjoying all of that and taking it all in, absolutely priceless. Throughout the workday, I look forward to going home to the barn. When I’m at home, most of my time is spent at the barn. I like to linger there. I like to just sit and soak in all of the feelings that come with being there. There is a solace that I don’t get anywhere else. There is a comfort that doesn’t come with anything else. I can have one of the worst days with work, or with other things, and it all melts away when I get to the barn. My refuge!!

                                     (this was the barn at Christmas, I'll have more pics to come)

More to come...stay tuned

Sunday, July 31, 2016

It Takes a Special Person

In light of recent events, I wanted to share a few other thoughts in Little Bits of Life. There was and is much more weighing on my mind that I wanted to share but here is some of it…

It takes a very special type of person to go into any type of service related field. By the service related field (and there are many occupations that fall under this heading), I’m talking medical personnel, firefighters, and police officers. I don’t think that I would ever have made a good nurse or nurse’s aid. I know I would never have made a good doctor. I am just not cut out for that type of work. I don’t think I could have ever made a firefighter. I run away from flames, not into them. And I know I could not have made a good police officer, especially in today’s day and age. But these people volunteer for these types of jobs. It has to be some sort of a “calling,” to be truly able to put everyone else first and rush into situations that everyone around is fleeing.

I have been thinking so much about all of these types of workers, these first responders who arrive onto the scene of a terrible traffic accident where many are hurt or worse. Those who make life and death decisions in a split second to try to save my life, or your life, or if neither of us can be saved, they move on to another that can be. Those members of our society that run into hundred story buildings, even as they are falling down around them, to try to save as many human lives as possible, all while knowing they are most likely not getting out of the situation alive. And now, those who run into the gunfire to protect innocent lives around them, instead of running for their own lives and their own safety.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve known “many” police officers in my lifetime. But I am, and have been acquainted with a few. I’ve known County Sheriff’s deputies, State Troopers, even local town and city police, and even some retired officers. They are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends, companions, wives and husbands; they are human beings! Some of them are very humble people, not seeking any recognition for themselves, but all honor to the job, to the brotherhood. I’ve met a few that have, for lack of a better way of putting it, “terrible attitudes;” infact, one Retired State Trooper that I met many years ago, I took him aside and asked him if they took all Troopers to special classes at the Police Academy to make them smart-asses, because at that time, every trooper that I’d met (which was like a grand total of like 3) were jerks. I’ve also met some officers who were the epitome of the Barney Fife character from Andy Griffith, and were afraid of their own shadow. All of them, regardless of attitude though, have the same oaths that they take at the beginning of their careers. “On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the Constitution, the community, and the agency I serve, so help me God.” (Found online at Regardless of what I think about a certain officer’s personallity, those words say a lot to me. Honor, Integrity, Courage, Accountable for our Actions, uphold the Constitution. Wow! Individually the words aren’t much, but together this way, they hold a lot of meaning and a lot of power.

Almost 2 years ago, I was pulled over for speeding on the interstate by a State Trooper. When he approached my car, he had no idea what he was getting into or who he would find behind the wheel of that little red car. He wasn’t really what I would call a nice man. He had attitude. He was very gruff, very stern. And in all honesty, his attitude kind of hurt my feelings a bit, not because he gave me a ticket (which he reduced to a reasonable amount of speed over the posted limit - by the way - and he didn’t have to do that), but more because I was trying my best to be kind and there really wasn’t any kindness coming back in return. After that incident though, I have pondered the day and that moment many times. I have no way of knowing what that man had seen that day, or the day or week before. I don’t know if he’d just come from a horrible wreck and was hoping and praying that I wouldn’t be the cause of or involved in another one. I don’t know if his kid had been up sick all night long. I don’t know if maybe that is just this guy’s normal attitude, and in all actuality, it’s not my place to question that Trooper’s attitude. Do I wish he could have been a bit nicer, yes, but I was speeding. I was the one in the wrong. I was the one who had broken a law with which he’d been sworn to uphold. Now my attitude in return to this man could have seriously changed the outcome of the whole encounter. Had I been hateful or a smart-elic back to him, or had I shown some type of aggression (even though I’m 5’3” and he was like 6’1” or 6’2”), then the situation could have escalated to the point that I would have received a ride in the back of that car with the pretty flashing lights. By my choosing to address him as “Sir,” because that’s how I was raised to talk to elders and authority figures, and by my being honest and upfront with him, yes, he still ticketed me, but it could have cost me a reckless driving charge and it didn’t. He did not have to do that, but he did, with a firm warning, which I have heeded up to this day. Now I know, you’re saying “yeah right, Laura, you’ve not sped in over 2 years.” Well, no, I’ve sped, but nothing like I was that day, and I try to set my cruise control and maintain a steady speed so as not to have any more of these encounters.

Yes, I still get jumpy when I see a police car sitting in the median. Yes, I still get nervous when I see one driving behind me - I’m paranoid that I’ll do something wrong. Yes, I still get nervous when I see blue lights, even if it is just a traffic check. I don’t get nervous because I think I’ve done something wrong or that the police are going to be mean to me. I get nervous because it’s the same feeling that I got in school if I ever got called the Principal’s office - it’s a respect for those in a position of authority. Do I think that all police officers are 100%, stand-up, class-act, in it for the honor of the job, etc. people? No, but I don’t think that all ordinary humans fall into that category either. There have been cases where firefighters enjoyed the thrill of fighting a fire so much that they themselves became the arsonist so that they could go fight that fire. There are cases of people in all walks of life, abusing their jobs and their positions in life, in order to make themselves feel or seem more important than they are. So no, not all police officers are good, but there are more of them that are those stand-up, class-acts, than there are the reverse. They are tasked, each and every day, with upholding the law, and enforcing the law. They’re not writing the laws as they go. Those laws are in writing, made by legislators that we as citizens voted into offices and some of those laws are ones we voted into being.Those laws are there for a reason. The posted speed limit of 70mph on the interstate isn’t there to impede or inconvenience me, it’s there because according to research and recommendations, that is the maximum speed with which travel can be safely made along that stretch of road with the amount of traffic, etc. on it. The other laws - don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t do all the other bad stuff that people do - well guys, those are just no brainers. We shouldn’t have to have someone watching us so that we don’t do these things, or if we did, to bring us to justice, but there again, even God knew that man needed laws to abide by. Man today also needs to learn respect. This is something that has been lost amongst society. It’s evident in all areas of society. From rudeness and aggressiveness on the highways by people that go nuts behind the wheel of a car, to just plain rudeness and utter lack of manners that you see with people in stores. I see it every day in the school aged kids that I deal with. Some would rather walk over top of you than to say excuse me if they run into you. Some have no idea at what point to just sit down and be quiet when an authority figure tells them to be quiet. Some have some type of rude and smart-elic come back when anyone tries to correct them. This world is now full of a whole generation - and it’s even in some older folks too, so I am in no way blaming this all on the kids - of individuals that think they deserve the world to be handed to them on a silver platter just because they’re breathing. And we’ve become a country, and a world for that matter, filled with absolutely no respect for human life - regardless of color, creed, nationality, religion, freckle patterns, hair color - whatever makes us all different. That has GOT to change and we as a human race have got to learn that wrong-doings deserve punishment and that ALL HUMAN LIVES MATTER. We have all got to get along. Wouldn’t it be a sad, sad world if we all looked the same or all liked the same things? Differences can be ok.

The moral of my ramblings here is love. As I’ve said many times before, the problem lies within the hearts of all those out there that would bring harm to others just because they can. It is truly a heart problem. Thank you to those first responders, you EMT’s, firefighters, rescue squad volunteers, and Police Officers. Thank you for running toward the danger for me and all that you were sworn to protect. Thank you for what you do. You’re in my prayers.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What to write about

What to write about. What to blog about...that is the question?


I vowed in the last blog post to start writing more often. I’m trying my best to stick to that, even though it’s been a couple of weeks since that post. I’ve been debating on what to do with the blog. After all ,it is called “Little bits of Life with Laura,” so, I’m guessing I can take this thing in many different directions. I’ve always heard it said that you’re supposed to “write about what you know.” Well, that is the conundrum then, isn’t it? Especially when I know a lot about very little and little about a lot. So, where do I go with this blog in order to get in the habit of updating it and writing more often? How do I “pick up traffic” on this site in order to make it really worth the time and effort of posting it? That’s what I’ve been pondering since my “Good. Now Go and Fail Again” post.

Aside from work and regular household chores, life for me for nearly the last four years has consisted of taking care of my animals. I haven’t always had this many critters, nor have I always known what to do with them or for them. Sometimes, I still don’t know what to do with them or for them, but every day with them is a learning experience for me. Learning about the animals as well as learning about myself. So, for the next little while at least, I would like to share some farm things. My sister-in-law will be happy that I’ve finally decided to write about this, since she’s been telling me to do so for some time now. I want to tell you about the farm itself, about some of the many things that I’ve learned already, things that I am learning, and even things that I want to learn about. I want to describe the structures that we’ve built, the personalities of the critters that inhabit our lands, and just the general silliness and craziness that has become my life. A life and an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

So, stay tuned; you’ll hear of silly horses, crazy cats, chickens galore, the hardships of building a barn, the misadventures of building chicken coops, and all of the other hair-brained ideas and attempts that I’ve had and will have as I write this and keep this blog. Occasionally, there might be an editorial piece thrown in or a piece about something other than farm life, but, I think that this is the direction I want to go for now. I hope you’ll continue the ride with me and see where we all end up.

"See" ya soon!!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

“I failed.” “Good. Now go fail again.”

“I failed.” “Good. Now go fail again.”


Failure. For some reason, failing at something feels like and is viewed as a bad thing. But honestly, in all actuality, is it really a bad thing? It’s said that Thomas Edison learned 99 ways NOT to make a light bulb before that 1 that worked. I’ve read that award winning author James Patterson was rejected by agents and publishers 31 times before someone picked up his first book. Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling had similar stories. I’ve also learned that with each failure, I’m a little closer to success. So, in today’s world of standardized testings, judgmental individuals all over the place, and such, when we fail, is it really and truly something bad?

According to, Failure is defined as 1) a lack of success, 2) nonperformance of something due, required, or expected, 3) a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency, 4) deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength, etc., 5) a condition of being bankrupt by reason of insolvency, 6) an unsuccessful person, enterprise, or thing. Even with all of these descriptions of what failure is, I still don’t believe that those descriptions completely sums up what failure actually is.

I think failure can be a learning experience. Over my lifetime, I’ve failed at many things. I cannot play the violin - yes, I tried, and it was NOT a pretty experience. But for as much as I’d love to be Alison Krauss or Charlie Daniels, I know that my forte is not in the strings! And I’m totally ok with that. I do not feel like less of a person because I cannot play the fiddle. In high school, I failed the first two six-weeks of Algebra I. I learned that I needed help, boatloads of help in fact, but I also learned that math was not something that came easily to me, and that I needed to work harder in order to pass it. I don’t feel any less because of my difficulties in math, I just know now that I have to do other things than most students, in order to completely understand the subject matter, and again, I’m ok with that. I have had a failed marriage. It doesn’t make me any less of a woman or person, it just means that I now know and understand what a marriage shouldn’t be. Sometimes I fail as a teacher. When I fail to recognize a problem with one of my students, or I fail to see one for their true potential, or I fail to get past my own mindsets in order to be a competent and proficient instructor. Does this make me any less human? No, it just reminds me that I am human and that there are certain things that I need to work harder for each day. Sometimes I fail to be thankful for the many blessings that I have. That definitely makes me human, but it also reminds me that I do have so much to be thankful for. So failing at something isn’t always a bad thing, if you can learn from or you can find something good in that failure.

At the moment, my failure is in my writing. Or, I guess I should say, my lack there of. I started this blog with a fire and a determination that I was going to update it weekly. But, considering my last post was in March and the one before that was July of last year...well, I do believe I’m a bit off track. I hope to start a new trend as of today. I cannot promise a new blog post every day, that’s for certain, but, I have a lot of things that I’d like to write about and to share with anyone who reads this. I also have some ideas for discussions to get you all involved in my blog! I may be writing about the antics of my animals, or some social injustice that I perceive at the moment, but I’m determined to try again!

So, yes, I’ve failed. I’ve learned. And now I’m going to go fail again, so that I can continue this lifelong learning process of mine!

Until next time (which hopefully will not take another 3 months to accomplish!)

Comment on things that you've failed at and have learned from. I'd love to hear other's take on this subject.

**Special thanks to whomever posted this picture on Facebook that I was able to snag. Thanks to Game of Thrones for the scene that’s depicted in the picture.

Friday, March 11, 2016

In Tribute

In Tribute


When I was little, I had a lot of wonderful female influences. My mother was and still is amazing. I have several wonderful and beloved Aunts, and I was fortunate enough to know both of my grandmothers through until I became an adult. Later on I was blessed with many teachers that I respected. I have certainly not lacked for shining examples of women in my life. But as a little girl, I had lots and lots of “idols”. Of course I’ve mentioned one of those idols on this blog before and that was Ms Dolly Parton. I admired her and still do admire her fiercely. Back then it was because of the flashy outfits, the big hair and makeup, and especially her singing. While I still admire those traits in her, now, my respect for Dolly has grown into so much more. There was, however; another strong and tiny lady that I admired very, very much, and the world lost this lovely lady this week:  Nancy Reagan.

I was born under Ford, and I was too little to remember much about Carter, other than my Pappaw was for him and he had yellow hair, so I drew him in Kindergarten as my vote for President that year. I really grew up under Reagan. And even though I drew Carter in Kindergarten, Reagan, during my lifetime, was always an impressive man and Commander in Chief. But it was that tiny little lady behind that handsome, dark-haired man that I always looked to though. I can remember her red suit-dress and red Jackie-O style hat. She was just the epitome of class. I remember how elegant she looked in that one shouldered white gown she wore to one of the Inaugural parties. She was always dressed so elegantly.  I remember how she would look at the President. You could see the love, respect, and admiration that she held for him as she watched him. You could see the same love, respect, and admiration in his eyes when he looked back at her. I always felt that this is how a wife and husband should look to the rest of the world. There was never any question in my mind of their love and devotion. I remember that I always saw this huge presence from her. She was small in stature but there was something in the way that she carried herself that just exuded confidence, class, and so many things greater than her physical size. I remember believing and will always believe that she and her husband were the best of friends and that they did all things together, completely in support of one another, again, the way marriages are supposed to be. I also remember thinking that she had to be one of the strongest women I’d ever seen, especially after the assassination attempt on her husband. I couldn’t imagine going through something like that, seeing the man you love that close to dying and still present a public face the way she did.

I could go on and on for pages about the things I remember of Mrs. Reagan. I guess with everyone sharing memories of her life and the woman that she was, I wanted an opportunity to share mine. I also wanted to say, Thank You Mrs. Reagan for being such a wonderful role model to young women of my generation. Thank you for showing us that we could dream of finding a romance like you and the President had. Thank you for showing us how women should behave in the public eye. Thank you for showing us that you could still be a very powerful person and still be tiny in size. And Thank you for showing us that it was ok for a woman to be direct and to speak her mind! My parent’s generation had Camelot and the Kennedy’s to be in awe of, but my Camelot was in watching the President and Mrs. Reagan and being thankful that I was alive to watch it all happen in real time. So truly, Mrs. Reagan, Thank You for being one of my lifelong heroes. May you and President Reagan be dancing in heaven and happily reunited now. Rest in Peace Pretty Lady.

Friday, February 26, 2016

How Does CTE Reach the Unreachable Student?

How Does CTE Reach the Unreachable Student?

First, I must answer the question, “What is CTE?” CTE stands for Career & Technical Education.

The next question, I’m guessing, is, “What does CTE do?” CTE provides students - middle school, high school, and post secondary - with technical skills, and hands-on experience needed for a career or for future education. It also offers students a chance to experience the “soft skills” that so many students are never exposed to.

According to, CTE provides students of all ages with the academic and technical skills, knowledge, and training necessary to succeed in future careers and to become lifelong learners. There are more than 12.5 million enrolled in CTE courses across the country. And, the average graduation rate for students who are CTE concentrators is approximately 90% - which is 15% higher than non CTE concentrators.

I’m guessing that there are still a few questions about what CTE, like what kind of courses are we really talking about here. There are sixteen different career clusters that are recognized nationally as a Career & Technical Education program (found at

Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources
Architecture & Construction
Arts, A/V Technology, & Communications
Business Management and Administration
Education & Training
Government & Public Administration
Health Science
Hospitality & Tourism
Human Services
Information Technology
Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security
Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

These are all technical terms and actual information from some of the websites that I checked out. But what CTE REALLY is, is a future. Let me tell you about me, and my experience with Career & Technical Education and why I am 100% convinced that it reaches the students that are sometimes unreachable in other courses.

As a sophomore in high school, I still was not sure what I wanted to do when I grew up. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, or if you know me, you’ll probably know that I wanted to be everything from Dolly Parton to a fighter jet pilot and everything in between. And honestly, I still don’t know what I want to do when I “grow up”. As a 15-year old though, I really had no clue. One day in the spring of that school year, the principal from the Vocational School (back in the 80’s and 90’s it was referred to as Vocational Education - the term Career & Technical Education came about in the early 2000’s) came to our Health & PE class to tell us about all the courses offered at the school. I knew a little bit about it, but not everything. I decided to come to the school and visit to see things in action; see it for myself. That visit changed my path. My brother had taken drafting, but he was always good at all things technical and he could draw just about anything free-handed. Me, not so much. When I came into the drafting classroom and saw the drafting tables and machines and equipment, and even the computer and the classroom plotter, I was hooked! I knew that this was something that I wanted to do and I had two school years to try it out and see if it was for me! My excitement and enthusiasm in finding a possible career path for myself was quickly dashed upon returning to the high school when I was met with disappointment and negativity by three teachers that I respected very much and I was met with extreme resistance by a guidance counselor who told me, “College preparatory students don’t go over there.” - as if it were some sort of disease. No matter how much I stressed to them that this was a valid and profitable career path and that I would benefit greatly for being part of it, I was still met with that same negative reaction and resistance. It finally took my dad, going to the school superintendant at the time, to get my schedule fixed so that I could attend the following school year.

My Junior year in high school finally came, and I was headed to the Vocational School to take Drafting. I found out quickly that I loved it! No, I was not perfect at it and I struggled with several things that year, but it was the first class that I truly felt at home in and felt that I was actually doing something that would help me in my life. The teacher was great! I was content with my place in the second row of desks and content learning how to draw all of the drafting line types and shapes and use all the tools. My teacher had talked to the class about VICA (the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America - it is now known as SkillsUSA) and about all of the benefits of being a member and participating in the organization at the school level, at district level, and even at the state level. He explained to us that it was more than a club and described many different opportunities with involvement. It sounded great, but I was happy with being in the classroom; an anonymous girl on the second row, happily drawing her day away! Little did I know that my teacher, thought otherwise! He asked me if I would consider running for local office and I told him of my love for the second row and anonymity. He asked again the next day and I gave him the same answer. The third day, however; was a completely different story. He was pouting at me! He wouldn’t hardly talk to me. He would answer my classroom questions and help me when I needed it with an assignment, but for three days, that was all the interaction I had with this man that I admired. When I came back in on Monday and told him that I would run for local office, the pouting stopped, and he was the same fella that I’d met on the first day of school!

Now, I’ve never been one who is known for being quiet, but it was usually just in small groups or one on one, never really getting up in front of a large group of people - especially people I had to see every single day of the school year - and talking. So my campaign speech was very much less than inspiring! When I stood behind the podium that morning, I was literally shaking in my shoes and my occasional stutter when in a stressful situation was very much prevalent. I barely remembered my name, which high school I attended, which class I was in, what office I was running for, let alone why in this world anyone should actually vote for me. I was never so relieved in my life than to sit back down. Amazingly though, I won the election. I was the newly elected VICA Secretary for the AM class. To this day, I’m pretty sure I got the sympathy vote - I’m pretty sure they all just felt sorry for me! Regardless, the office was mine to do with and learn for the school year. For those that don’t know much about VICA (SkillsUSA) there is always an Opening Ceremony at the beginning of each meeting to describe the emblem and the colors of the emblem. My part as Secretary was about the Orbital Circles. Well, my mouth had a very difficult time saying, “Orbital Circles,” so during all the practices, I always got that part wrong. I just knew the first meeting was going to be horrendous with my emblem part. I was pleasantly surprised on the day of the first meeting that I actually annunciated the Orbital Circles correctly and I didn’t stumble with the words or forget anything! I took a deep breath, relieved, and started moving toward the easel holding the emblem, to attach my piece, and just as I was about to step off of the stage, I got my heel caught on the top step and nearly face planted in front of about 80 of my closest friends. Thankfully, the Historian caught the tail of my jacket before I fell all the way over so I didn’t actually wipe out, but my face was bright red - probably even redder than my VICA blazer - and most of the audience was laughing. As I hung that emblem piece up on the stand, I realized something about myself. I realized that if I could survive being that embarrassed in front of my peers, that I could probably do anything that I set my mind to. That was probably “THE” true turning point in my teenage life. I went on that school year to give a speech at a district rally, compete in Extemporaneous Speaking, Student of the Year, and Opening & Closing Ceremonies competitions at the district level, and then go on to the state level in Opening & Closing Ceremonies and Extemporaneous Speaking, all while running for State Secretary. Our Opening & Closing Ceremonies team placed 3rd in the state and I placed 3rd in the state in Extemporaneous Speaking. My bid for state office though, well, I lost that to a girl from Richmond. While that part was disappointing to me, I was shocked and thrilled at the same time when the State Director approached my principal and told her that even though I’d lost the election for state office, I’d still acquired enough votes from the delegation to run for a National VICA Office if they would let me. They let me!! In June that year, I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to the National VICA Skills and Leadership Championships to run for National VICA Region II Vice President! And that time, I won!!!!!

My senior year in high school was amazing - all because I went over there to the Vocational School, took the drafting class, got pouted at by my teacher, ran for local office, nearly fell on my face in front of the whole school, lost my run for state office, and was a newly elected - and first ever from my school - National VICA Officer!  I spent two weeks in August before school started in Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine, where I flew for the first time, went white water rafting for the very first time, went out on a whale watching excursion in the Atlantic, at lobster and crab for the first time ever, and had the most incredible officer training sessions with 14 other National Officers from all over the country. I spent a week in Washington DC where I was able to participate in ceremonies at the National Cathedral, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and JFK’s grave, speak at a breakfast before members of the 102nd Congress, and meet students and advisors from all over the country. I spent another week there with people from all over Virginia. I traveled to many places in Virginia that year with the State Officer team. Made memories and friends that I still hold dear to this day. And at the end of the school year, I traveled back to Louisville where I relinquished my office to another. But it was so worth it! That year, those two years, they completely changed my life and my perspective on who I was and what I could do with my life! Even with all my travels during that school year, I still managed to graduate just out of the top 10% of my senior class, I was still a member of the National Honors Society, and to top all that off, I won a scholarship - the only one that was given out in the county that school year - that paid for my college tuition for 2 years and a second scholarship that paid for my books for all but the last semester that I was in school. Not too bad for someone who wasn’t supposed to go to the Vocational School.

I can say, without any doubt, I am who I am today because of going to that drafting class, because of my teacher pouting, because of taking a chance and running for that local office, for losing a bid at a state office, and most definitely, because of those that had faith enough in me to encourage me and allow me to run for the National office. I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing had I simply stayed at the high school because Vocational School wasn’t cool for College bound students. Not only did I learn a skill with drafting that I’ve used every day of my adult working life, but I also learned those “Soft Skills” that so many people lack. And, my college  was nearly paid for because of it all. My teachers at the high school cared about me, I know this. There were also certain ones of them that I really respected and that did make an impact on my life. But all of the teachers at the Vocational School - not just the one I had in the drafting class - but all of them, definitely helped to mold me, shape me, encourage me, and prepare me for my future.

THIS is what Career & Technical Education is. This is why CTE classes can reach more students than mainstream English, math, science, etc. Now please, don’t go fussing because I said that. Some kids do really well in all of those type classes, so please don’t think that I’m trying to put down “regular” classroom type classes for students. Courses like:  Horticulture, Agriculture, Veterinary Assistant, Animal Science, Accounting, Graphic Design, Finance, CISCO Networking, Advertising Design, Automotive Service Technology, Automotive Refinishing and Collision Repair Technology, Cosmetology, Criminal Justice, Culinary Arts, Certified Nursing Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Welding, CAD/Drafting, Building Trades, Masonry, Carpentry, Computer Repair & many more that I know I’m leaving off, can offer kids today a career. Some classes can send their students out into the workforce as licensed professionals while others can prepare students to go on to college to further their career path. The courses offer students hands-on experience - did you read that right? Let’s try it again just in case - hands-on experience into their trade area. Many of these courses also offer college credit through Dual Enrollment opportunities with local community colleges or even universities, where students can earn college credit just by attending and passing their CTE class during a school year. And to top off the excellent hands-on, real-world learning these kids are doing in their classes, they are also getting leadership and management experience, and knowledge of those “soft skills” I mentioned earlier through Career & Technical Student Organizations such as SkillsUSA, TSA, FBLA, FFA, DECA, HOSA, FCCLA, BPA, and FEA (see for more information about Student Organizations).

THIS is how CTE reaches the unreachable student! I could go on and on with telling you about my experiences and about CTE. My life is just one example. I know that there are many out there. Please, share your CTE story here; whether it’s yours, your child’s, someone you know, or if you’re a teacher and have seen the success of CTE.