When I began my work as a CTE director eight years ago, my first task was to assess the state of the CTE program at our secondary campuses. I visited with teachers, counselors, principals, district administrators, students and parents about their understanding of our program – course offerings, extracurricular opportunities, benefits, and preparation for postsecondary success. It did not take long to realize that CTE in our district was misunderstood. More specifically, CTE seemed to function in isolation… it was not seen as a vital part to a well-rounded educational experience for all students. Might sound familiar, right?
Even through all of the positive publicity and great support CTE has received in recent years, major misconceptions still color the opinions of many students, parents, school leaders, and community members. This can steer students away from programs unintentionally. When I first began to explore ways to battle these misconceptions in my district, I realized that an excellent place to start was with our secondary counseling team. The middle school and high school counselors already visited with students each year about career guidance and course selection through academic advisement conferences, though most of these conferences were in small groups or in auditoriums with full grade levels. Missing was a clear, consistent, unified message about the variety of personalized pathways available to every single student.
After years of conversations, brainstorms, and development of diverse resource tools, our academic advisement has changed entirely! We can honestly say that every single student is educated on the variety of programs of study available to them, and that counselors are confident enough to ensure guidance is provided free from bias, is inclusive and non-discriminatory. Through a locally developed course required of all 8th graders, students are encouraged to explore career interests to drive the development of postsecondary goals. They participate in a high school CTE Fair to visit with students and teachers about the variety of courses available. Then, they draft a high school 4-year plan that aligns to their areas of interest. Our parents and community partners are asking how they can help be a part of encouraging students while they explore career options. It has become a team effort.
Perhaps the greatest achievement we have reached as a result of this increased awareness regarding the benefits of CTE for all students is a strong commitment to creatively meeting the accommodation needs of our special populations. We have provided in-class support in several of our CTE courses through co-teach instructional environments. Additionally, our 18+ program is working on employability skill development using community partner relationships. Overall, our CTE programs have continued to grow and thrive which, without a doubt, helps us reach our mission of preparing every single student to be ready for their successful journey after high school.