As they try to fight less-than-flattering perceptions from the past and more difficult graduation requirements, Career Technical Education programs across the East Valley have redefined their offerings to stay in step with evolving career fields.
As the name indicates, CTE programs provide students with a peek inside career fields through classes tailored toward different fields. The range of offerings encompasses law enforcement and firefighting sciences to auto repair, cosmetology, broadcast and biotechnology depending on the school and the school district.
“It’s offering options for students,” said Gilbert Public Schools CTE director Doug Daley. “It gives students an opportunity to experiment and utilize their skills.”
Mesa-based East Valley Institute of Technology superintendent Sally Downey said students can reap a number of benefits by taking CTE classes that include access to the “beaucoup business partners” tied to the programs. Those businesses, she said, are in search of “magic solution to workforce issues” in careers that pay well, or, like nursing, have solid long-term employment prospects. It’s one of the reasons she said the school will add fields that become increasingly popular and subsequently drop programs that aren’t beneficial for students.
Another benefit mentioned by Downey is in the classroom, as she said CTE students often improve their marks in the classroom in order to stay enrolled in their career preparation classes. That can also have a positive effect on graduation rates, with Downey noting approximately 98 percent of EVIT students finish all four years of high school. Mesa Director of CTE Marlo Loria said students get the chance to experiment with potential career interests before entering the post-secondary level.
It can be an important asset for many students who want to explore their future interests without worrying about the ramifications it could have on their college expenses, and they have nothing to lose if they shift their interests from computer repair to aviation as a high school student.
“We’re the ones who turn on the lightbulb of learning,” Downey said.
Daley added the skills students learn as high schoolers can help them in college in the classroom and outside, as that background could make it easier for students looking at part-time jobs to compensate for university expenses for students who opt to take that route.
Students who don’t want to pursue a four-year degree could use the program as a launching pad for an associate degree or even an apprenticeship depending on the field, said Chandler Unified School District director of institutional services Meg Gianesello. As she and Loria pointed out, not every student can or needs to pursue a bachelor’s degree after they leave high school.
“There’s no one answer for any kid; we want to see what their interests are in high school,” Gianesello said.
Although the scope of the CTE programs have expanded, they face a few obstacles in their attempts to grow and attract new students, the most noticeable being the one thing Downey said is the hardest to fight: a negative perception of what CTE classes offer. That view, she said, was forged by vocational education classes that offered lessons on subjects like welding and home economics that the parents of the current generation of students took while they were in school.
“It’s not the same shop class you had 20 or 30 years ago,” Loria said.
A more pragmatic problem the Chandler, Mesa and Gilbert district CTE programs face is an increase in the number of credit hours required in order to graduate: 22 total, including four credits of math and three for science. The issue CTE programs face is a lack of carryover, as some of the class credits earned in those classes don’t count toward the specific requirements in math and science, and Loria added most universities don’t accept credits earned through CTE classes either.
The school districts are trying to get CTE classes to count toward the requirements — Daley said Gilbert’s agriculture class now counts as a science credit — but Gianesello said it has dissuaded students from taking CTE classes.
Despite problems with perception and credits, the East Valley CTE directors are confident in their programs and what they’ll offer in the future.
“We’re doing some great things; I’m glad people are beginning to notice,” Loria said.
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