Vocational options are growing at local high schools
Over the past several years, New Braunfels ISD and Comal ISD have seen growth in high school student participation in Career and Technical Education, or CTE, courses and certifications.
Unlike traditional high school courses, these programs provide a more technical knowledge base for specific career fields and practical training and certification that helps students specialize earlier in their careers, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Rachel Behnke, director of CTE programs at NBISD, said Texas as a whole has been pushing for districts to expand these programs in recent years.
“The Texas Education Agency developed these curricula. In school districts, we’ve made them applicable to our local courses in what we offer,” Behnke said. “The intention is to kind of have multiple entry and exit points. So, for example, if a student was taking a program in high school and decided they wanted to go straight to work, they could take that job. Or if a student wants to continue their education, they already have a head start in their career. »
A variety of state and federal funding is available to school districts for these programs through the continued reauthorization of the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, which was recently reauthorized by Congress in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Health. Education.
State and federal funding is then allocated by the TEA based on local needs assessments submitted by school districts that collect data on local economic considerations, available jobs, and student needs.
Advance CTE, a national nonprofit that represents state CTE directors of education and tracks data, found that in a 2022 survey of more than 300 employers, 77% hired an employee because of their CTE experience, and 84% said it was “easy”. to find qualified candidates based on their CTE experience.
In the most recent school year, NBISD students earned more than 500 certifications, and DSIC students earned more than 1,500.
“We are trying to increase the number of industry certifications that are available to students. These are really prevalent in the health sciences,” Behnke said.
Renee Martinez, director of career readiness at CISD, said the programs have grown in part because they are not monolithic, but rather offer multiple degrees of involvement – clear sequences of lessons throughout the high school to students who choose to take a course or two out of interest.
“CTE covers many areas. If you have a child who is not in a band, choir, or athletics, their only other optional options fall under the CTE, and even then you might have a child involved in one of those programs that randomly follows a CTE course. [such as] accounting or health science principles,” Martinez said.
CISD offers more than 140 CTE courses throughout the district, and of these, there are 35 degree programs that students can take through high school.
The NBISD has over 80 courses and 20 degree programs.
The specialization of CTE programs provides a variety of pathways into the job market, and many students find themselves employed in their chosen field directly after high school. Others use their experience to guide them down a path they might not have fully understood in high school, but the programs give them a head start in finding the right career, program directors say NBISD and DSIC.
“Some kids come into my class not knowing what they want to do,” said Jennifer Thompson, a CTE teacher at New Braunfels High School, who teaches classes in criminal justice, law enforcement, public safety, forensic medicine and other related courses. “They realized I wasn’t just focused on law enforcement. There are other things in the area of criminal justice that they could do. So it kind of gives them a clearer perspective of what they could actually do with their degree if they go into criminal justice.
Thompson added that through his course footage, former students have covered all aspects of law enforcement, such as working as a 911 dispatcher while studying criminal justice at Texas State University, as well as several who became military police.
Jake Waldrip, a 2014 graduate of New Braunfels High School, said he always knew he would pursue a career in agriculture and, through Future Farmers of America programs, he had been showing cattle since childhood. He graduated from Texas State with a degree in Animal Science and now works for the family business – Waldrip Bros. Cattle Co. – and in the sale of cattle trailers at D&D Texas Outfitters.
While Waldrip grew up in the business, he said many students took some agricultural classes with him without any experience.
“I had friends from high school who didn’t necessarily grow up around him, and they showed other species, but they came to help us with the show cattle through the whole process…so much in depth they wanted to come in, we were always willing to help and always had our arms open,” Waldrip said. “As long as someone is willing to show up and get their hands dirty and work hard, they there are a ton of people who are willing to teach and involve the kids in all aspects of the game.”
Mike Newkirk, a professor of automotive technology at Canyon High School, said some of his students go straight into the industry while others go on to post-secondary education in the field.
Its students typically take four years of automotive technology, from the basics of car mechanics to more advanced courses. His classroom doubles as an auto shop where teachers and staff can bring in their own parts and have students work on their vehicles.
“I put them to work right after school if they don’t want to go to post-secondary or college or you know if they want to do something else in life,” Newkirk said. “If they don’t want to go to college, I have industry leaders here [at] local dealerships from San Antonio to South Austin who will hire my guys out of my program because we’re accredited.
One of these recent graduates is James Robinson, who received a scholarship from UTI but instead chose to go straight to work at Griffith Ford.
“Mr. Newkirk gave me the opportunity to get every certification possible at my age. I came out of Canyon High School’s automotive program with over 20 certifications,” Robinson said.
“I just wanted to make money immediately; I didn’t want to have to. So I decided that rather than having to wait to start my career and start from the bottom, I can start from the bottom now rather than four years from now,” he said.
CTE pathways also provide a doorway into fields that allow students to work in the field in which they are pursuing higher education to gain experience.
Sanjay Patel graduated from the NBHS in 2016 and while in school he knew he wanted to be in the medical field and took pre-dental courses.
“I aspired to be a dentist, [but] I realized that dentistry is not where I want to be. I always knew I wanted to be somewhere in healthcare, and that’s when I started exploring the different healthcare options available to me. I started looking to administration,” Patel said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in public health from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a master’s degree in commerce, he is now interning at a hospital in Carrollton.
The CTE course he took on medical terminology was also helpful, he said.
“[It helped] learn more about terminology often used by medical practices. I would say that the internship helped me a lot. Near my junior year and at the end of my junior year, I received my Registered Dental Assistant certification. So during my senior year in high school, I also worked as a dental assistant in the office while studying,” he said.
For students looking to enter the teaching profession, CTE programs such as Ready, Set Teach place high school students in a classroom for a few hours a week to learn from current teachers and interact with students.
“I kind of always knew I wanted to work with kids, but I wasn’t really sure if that was the teaching I wanted to do, so I joined my freshman year, and I had to be in a classroom four days a week for two hours,” said Valerie Grona, a 2017 graduate of Smithson Valley High School and now a kindergarten teacher at Johnson Ranch Elementary School.
Grona said the experience showed her what it was like to be a teacher and confirmed her interest in pursuing a career in teaching.
While participating in the Ready, Set Teach program, Grona was able to work at the elementary school where she went and teaches now.
“That kind of came full circle for me,” she said. “But really, it just showed me what teachers do every day and gave me a taste of it. That’s probably one of my most memorable things in high school was being ready to teach because that was the thing I looked forward to every day.