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.

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