The Power of Junior High CTE

When is too early to start thinking about your career? I remember being asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” as early as three years old. I know my answers have changed from being a ballerina, to a Marine (like Dad), to Accountant, to being a Teacher. Is seventh grade too late to start thinking of your future? I would argue no, it may even be too late.

TLC (Technology Life Careers), the Peoria Unified School District (Arizona) Junior High CTE Program, is a required program for all 7th and 8th grade students. There are eight quarters of instruction. The first quarter is a refresher on how to use basic Software – MS Word, MS Excel, MS Power Point, plus Internet Safety, Employability Skills like working in a team. The next six quarters are basically one Career Field per quarter – Business/Marketing/Manager, Communication & Information Systems, Environmental & Agricultural Systems, Health Services, Human Services & Resources, and Industrial/Manufacturing/Engineering Systems. These quarters use the Total CTE Program Model with rigorous classroom instruction, hands-on laboratory instruction, leadership through CTSO (FBLA, HOSA or SkillsUSA), work-based learning with daily video announcements, partners in the classroom and integration of technical reading, writing, math, science and technology. The eighth quarter is to determine high school courses to take or the Education Career Action Plan (ECAP).

Here is a story of one young man through his parents eyes. While in the program, this student took each unit seriously. He loved the hands-on CTE labs. He approached his parents around Thanksgiving time, while in 7th grade, to say, “I made my decision.” As parents, we thought it was what he wanted for Christmas, but it was… “I have decided I want to be an Engineer.” My response was great… what type of Engineering (to see if he really was thinking this through)? He said, through his TLC program he knows he likes and is good with Engineering, but needs more experiences to narrow it down. Advance to the summer between his 7th and 8th grade year, as parents, what other experiences do you need to decide what type of engineering. This young man said he had made his decision. He responded, I want to be a Nuclear Engineer. Great… do you want to visit colleges and universities. His rather teenage snarky response was something like… “Mom, through TLC, I did this research and determined that USNA (United States Naval Academy) is free, and if accepted, you can choose to work in an Aircraft Carrier, not a Submarine. I want to go there and I need your help with a letter from our Senator.” My son was Vice President of Student Council during his 7th grade year and elected President of SkillsUSA his 8th grade year. He took high school Algebra I and Geometry while in 8th grade to accelerate his math. During the summer between 8th grade and Freshmen year, he visited the USNA in Maryland. The Orientation Briefing had one pivotal question… will you finish Pre-Calculus by the time you graduate high school. Liam was one of two students who indicated he would. This engaged Liam more. Based on this experience, he enrolled in Air Force JROTC, US Naval Sea Cadet Corps (outside of school) and Engineering. He applied for and was accepted to USNA Summer STEM as an Emerging Sophomore. He really liked the experience. He realized that he is more than prepared. He makes sure that he is meeting his physical, leadership and academic markers. Advance to this school year, his Junior year, and my son is taking CTE Internship – Engineering. As a result, he did more research on his career and colleges. Just like the program is intended, he is exploring more opportunities. He is exploring being an Astrophysicist and added Embry Riddle, CalTech, MIT to his list of opportunities, besides USNA and the other Military Service Academies. Thanks to CTE starting early, my son is exploring all of his opportunities, what he likes and what he doesn’t.

This story is not unlike others. This story tells me that our TLC program was doing what it needed to do… it had him think about his career options and he did research on it…its future, the education needed, its earning potential.

This student’s story as a secondary story … So this young man gets to his 8th grade year and it is time to meet with a High School Counselor about the classes he would like to take. He meet, privately, with one of the best Counselors in the district and he helped him narrow his classes down. He completed his paperwork, based on this Counselor’s advice, but a different Counselor tried to change his form. She said, he was “too smart” to take CTE classes. This engaged (I should say enraged) him in helping not just himself, but other students as well. He helped others to enroll in the classes they wanted no matter if it is at his home school or not. This seems to be the resounding theme… CTE is for “those kids”… “those who don’t go to college.” I don’t see it that way… CTE is for ALL students… ALL students need a Career.

The point is… This student is exploring what he likes and what he doesn’t like while in junior high and high school, so he doesn’t waste TIME and MONEY post-secondary determining what he wants to do. He connects core classes to his career outcomes – like accelerating math. He has the tools in his toolbelt to determine his path and we know it will change again. My bigger point is… ALL students need CTE to start earlier than high school.


Patti Beltram, Ed.D.

Director for Career & Technical Education

Peoria Unified School District