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CTE programs prepare students for tech jobs
Sunday, August 3, 2014
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
An economic development leader feels local schools should place more emphasis on letting students know that many career and technical education fields lead to well-paying careers, not just jobs, and that students should feel good about pursuing these careers.
Mark Heath, president/CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., also feels that students should be taught such things as how to think, how to read rulers, some other basic math skills, basic functions of machines and some other skills that can transfer to industry.
However, Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton and Patrick County Public Schools Superintendent William Sroufe said their school divisions strive to prepare students to be ready for college and a career.
“The skills are really the same to be successful in college and career,” Cotton said.
Heath said he thinks students should be taught soft skills and work ethics, such as how to present yourself for a job interview; how to dress and act properly; and the importance of arriving at work on time. Some other examples he gave were that students should be taught the importance of upgrading skills to get back in the work force after losing a job; if you lose a job, you may have to take a lesser paying job at first to get back to work; to work every day to support yourself and family; and there is value in work.
In some ways, he said he feels there is a disconnect between what is happening in schools and what’s going on in industry.
Heath said when he was in school there seemed to be more vocational arts classes such as woodworking, industrial shop and auto shop.
Also, in “my generation” there was a feeling that the key to success was getting a four-year degree, he said. A lot of young people were made to feel like second-class students if they didn’t go to four-year colleges, he added.
Heath pointed out that he and other business and industry officials regularly meet with officials of Martinsville and Henry County public schools and that many business officials share his ideas. He also pointed out he is not being critical of school divisions, is not downplaying the importance of college education, is not an educator and has full confidence that school divisions are making prudent decisions.
Heath said Warrior Tech Academy at Magna Vista High School is “a great idea.”
Students at Warrior Tech, which opened a year ago, learn through doing projects on a specific issue or challenge. The students work in groups, and teachers guide them along. Projects require problem solving, critical thinking, communication and students working in groups. School division officials have said those are skills business officials have told them they are looking for in employees.
Heath also said STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses are important. He also praised schools taking students on tours of companies and seeing employees’ skills in action.
Cotton said HCPS officials regularly communicate with Heath and other business and K-12 and post-secondary educators through a group called Transforming the Community Through Collaboration (TC2).
HCPS’ curriculum is stressing what Cotton calls the four C’s — critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity — as college and career readiness skills. “Employers have said that’s what they need,” Cotton said.
HCPS also is strengthening its math programs and has revised the math curriculum K-12 to have more real-world applications, he said. The changes include looking at how students are selected to go into higher level math to make sure they don’t miss any important math concepts before moving up.
The division has implemented the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment — a norm-referenced measure of student growth over time — for grades K-8 in math, reading and language.
It also has provided training in inquiry-based learning for elementary and secondary math teachers. Inquiry-based learning involves more real-life applications, Cotton added.
Cotton said he feels HCPS either by itself or in conjunction with Patrick Henry Community College and New College Institute offers a wide variety of career and technical education courses. (See related article.)
Heath seemed to agree when he was read a summary of HCPS’ CTE offerings. “That's a pretty broad offering,” he said.
Cotton said it’s difficult to add more programs because of the expense. And if only a small number of students are interested in taking a course, the school division can’t justify it. However, by partnering with PHCC, most times programs can be offered, he said.
“We do a career plan for all students starting in the seventh grade, to plan coursework,” Cotton said. “We’re not going to limit them or push them in any direction.”
“We present all options equally,” he said, referring to college and CTE paths.
“We would like to have every student graduate from Henry County Public Schools with either an associate degree or industry certification,” he added.
All ninth-graders are required to take a personal finance class, and some soft skills/work ethics are covered in that, he said. The school division’s emphasis on the four C’s also will help in that area, he said.
Cotton said he has heard that there is a disconnect between schools and the business world. HCPS has responded by such things as taking some students to visit local businesses and inviting business leaders to come into the schools, he said.
Specifically, he said what used to be known as woodworking is no longer called that, but those skills are covered in the building trades program.
He feels HCPS students are being taught measurement skills (such as skills that would allow them to use a ruler).
He also agrees that some CTE programs, especially technical ones, can lead to lucrative careers.
Patrick County Public Schools Superintendent William Sroufe said he agreed in general with many of Heath’s points, but Sroufe said he believes PCPS offers a balanced approach that prepares students for college and career.
In his case, he said, “I sort of went to college with no real direction.” Then he joined the military, and when he got out, went back to college.
This year, some hours have been restored for some CTE employees, and an agriculture course or two have been added in PCPS, he said.
Martinsville City Public Schools officials indicated the CTE program for 2014-15 was being finalized last week and they either wished to delay being interviewed or did not respond.