Career and technical programs prepare seniors for the future | #education | #technology | #training


Graduation rate

Four-year graduation rate for Arkansas high school students:

• Career and technical program completers — 96.2%

• All high school students — 88.5%

• Students not in any career and technical program — 79.9%

Source: Arkansas Department of Education

Joshua Shanks never imagined himself in a career in culinary arts, but after spending the past year studying the subject, he says he’s found his passion.

Career and technical education has helped prepare Shanks — a senior at Bentonville West High School — for the future. In May, hundreds of others like him across Northwest Arkansas will be graduating and going into the workforce or on to college or trade school.

Career and technical education gives students an academic foundation, technical skills and hands-on experience to get them ready for the real world, according to the Arkansas Department of Education.

In 2021, there were 112,486 career and technical education completers in Arkansas high schools, according to Ross White, career and technical education for the Arkansas Department of Education and former vice principal at Siloam Springs High School. Completers are students who have taken three successive classes in one career path. The number contains some duplicates because students can become completers in more than one area, he said.

About 82% of those students went on to higher education — pursuing a two- or four-year degree or certification, or joined the military or Peace Corps, White said. The rest likely went straight into the workforce.

“Our hope is the skills we have provided them will help them land a position more conducive to their overall success,” White said.

The state offers 16 career cluster areas career and technical programs can focus on in fifth through 12th grade. To be accredited, Arkansas high schools must offer at least three programs of study in three occupational areas, for a total of nine career areas, he said.

Career and technical education allows students to take career exploration to the next level and helps them to focus on pathways in the workforce, White said. At the middle school level, students are exposed to the opportunities, before concentrating on an area of interest in high school, he said.

Shanks is part of Bentonville’s Ignite program and studied culinary arts at Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food, part of Northwest Arkansas Community College. The credits he earned have given him a head start toward an associate degree in culinary arts, which he plans to continue pursuing in the fall.

“I cook all the time,” he said. “It’s a blast. I love it here.”

Ignite serves juniors and seniors in the Bentonville School District, according to director Teresa Hudson. It is separate from the district’s career and technical education program and serves as a capstone to many of the introductory-level classes, she said. Ignite students earn college credit, earn certifications that make them workforce-ready and participate in internships and community service.

The program offers eight strands of study, with two more coming next year. Students have to go through an application process to participate, Hudson said. It has 340 students, including 202 seniors, and is expected to grow to more than 500 students next fall, she said.

Shanks said he got involved with the Ignite culinary program because the regular culinary class in his school was full. At the beginning of the year, he set a goal to jump at any opportunity that came his way. Since then he’s volunteered for an assisted living facility, helped with the Olympic culinary team that trained at the facility and done multiple internship rotations at local restaurants.

Shanks has also been able to test out of the special education program, according to Audra Weeks, culinary arts instructor.

“He came into my class hesitant, quiet and unsure but he has built his confidence to the point he is willing to work towards competitions,” she said.

Success in high school

Career and technical education students in Arkansas have a higher graduation rate than their peers and do better on standardized tests, according to White. The four-year graduation rate for career and technical education program completers was 96.6% in 2021, compared to 88.5% for all high school students and 79.9% for students who are not in any career and technical education classes, he said.

Career and technical programs keep students engaged, especially during their junior and senior years, White said. Student organizations such as Future Farmers of America, Future Business Leaders of America and Family Career and Community Leaders of America help build relationships between teachers and students. The co-curricular activities encourage students to be involved in competitive events, network and complete service projects, he said.

Students in career and technical education classes also score higher on standardized tests in subjects such as English, math and science, White said.

Many career and technical education training areas — such as agricultural programs, engineering and medical sciences — focus on math and science skills, White said.

High school students often question why they need to know a subject such as algebra and how they will use it in real life, White said. Career and technical education helps them begin to see how those subjects are applied in day-to-day work, he said.

There is a strong connection between traditional classroom content in areas such as English and math, and the course work they’re doing in career and technical classes in their field of interest, said Dawn Stewart, director of career and technical education for the Rogers School District. For example, in a construction lab, students get to use equipment and tools while practicing a high degree of math and science, she said.

“Because of that relevant and authentic connection, the level of student engagement increases,” she said.

Hudson said some Ignite students are very driven and have perfect ACT scores, while others are a little bored with traditional education. Spending half their day doing something they are passionate about breaks up their day and gives them an incentive to bring their grades up, she said.

“I think CTE gives kids a reason to come to school,” said Kelley Williamson, career and technical education coordinator for the Springdale School District. “They are making, they are creating, they are connecting with their teachers, they are connecting with other students, they have a reason to wake up. It’s really vital.”

Success after graduation

Thirty-five Fayetteville High School seniors, who completed career and technical education programs, were honored during a signing ceremony April 13. The seniors are either entering the workforce, going on to post-secondary education or serving in the military in an area they studied in high school.

Fayetteville students are offered 10 career and technical programs ranging from agriculture to television.

Overall, between 160 and 170 Fayetteville High School seniors will be completers when they graduate next month, according to Lisa Hotsenpiller, director of career and technical education.

Senior Ethan Huddleston is going straight into the workforce as an apprentice electrician after graduation, he said. As he gets more experience and on-the-job training, he will work toward becoming a journeyman electrician, he said.

Seniors Jearenny Franklin and Trusha Liyanage both studied the medical professions and plan to major in biochemistry at the University of Arkansas, then go on to become physicians.

Franklin became a certified nursing assistant during her junior year and has spent her senior year working at the Fayetteville Veterans Home.

“Without the program I probably wouldn’t be where I am at today having a career as a CNA and being a completer of all the medical classes,” she said.

Liyanage became president of her school’s chapter of HOSA — Future Health Professionals, formerly known as Health Occupations Students of America. The experience helped her learn to be a leader and gave her the opportunity to teach others about the medical field, she said.

Liyanage also was able to job-shadow professionals in the medical field, which helped her realize she was making the right decision about her career, she said.

All of the school’s career and technical courses have a career exploration component, Hotsenpiller said.

“We are hoping by students going through the CTE courses, they are getting some guidance, deciding if I like this or I don’t like this in high school,” she said. “The earlier they can make those decisions, the better.”

Internships and certification

An internship with the Beaver Lake Fire Department turned into a permanent position as a volunteer on the department for Rogers High School senior James Engert. Engert signed a letter of intent with the department April 1.

By the time Engert graduates high school next month, he will have completed nearly a dozen entry-level fire certifications, according to the department.

The internship was part of a career investigation and internship class for juniors and seniors, according to William Felts, career and technical education facilitator. Some students use the time to work and earn money, but they are also learning soft skills on the job, he said.

The Rogers School District has 27 career and technical education programs on campus, as well as additional programs on the campuses of Northwest Technical Institute and Northwest Arkansas Community College, according to Stewart.

Students earn post-secondary credentials and national certifications in areas of study that range from construction and trades to technology and medical sciences that make them more employable when they graduate from high school, she said.

Springdale has close to 10,000 students in career and technical programs in grades six through 12, said Williamson. There are five major areas of study with career paths within each area. She estimated 75% of students will take at least one career and technical class before they graduate.

For students who go directly into the workforce, earning industry credentials in areas ranging from the medical field to construction helps increase their pay, Williamson said. Many companies provide in-house training and scholarships so they can continue their education, she said.

Students interested in higher education can earn enough credits for an associate degree through concurrent classes from Northwest Arkansas Community College, Williamson said.

Career and technical programs not only give students skills for the future, it helps them find their passion, she said.

Bentonville High School student Allie Eccleston knew from a young age she wanted to be an educator, but her internship working in a fourth grade classroom at Central Park Elementary solidified her decision, she said. After graduation, she hopes to spend more time volunteering in the classroom.

Being in Ignite and participating in community service and internships makes students more mature and creates professional connections that will help them get jobs, Eccleston said.

Eccleston has also taken multiple concurrent college classes that will give her a head start when she begins working toward a degree in education at Oklahoma State University next fall. From there, she hopes to earn her master’s degree, become a principal and return to work in the Bentonville School District, she said.

Bentonville High School senior Cameron Lowery, part of the district’s traditional career and technical program separate from Ignite, already has a job as an iron worker thanks to his internship with a local company. He originally wanted to be a game warden, but realized he really enjoys building things.

Lowery also took digital marketing for two years and did an internship in that field, but realized it wasn’t for him. Having the time for trial and error in high school has saved him money he would have spent on college classes, he said.

Springdale senior Alexis Castillo will be a completer of both civil engineering and architecture when he graduates. He plans to attend the University of Arkansas and major in architecture, he said.

Castillo said his favorite part of the classes was hands-on learning. He especially enjoyed designing a model of a lodge for park rangers, similar to a hotel, he said.

Career and technical education, he said, “teaches you a lot, it prepares you for the future and really shows you what you can learn.”

    Bentonville Ignite student Joshua Shanks plates a tomato feta crustini with a fig glaze, Thursday, April 21, 2022 at Brightwater in Bentonville. Bentonville Ignite culinary students will be graduating next month and going into the workforce, to college or to additional technical training. Check out nwaonline.com/220422Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
 
 
  photo  Bentonville Ignite student Joshua Shanks picks greens from a tower garden, Thursday, April 21, 2022 at Brightwater in Bentonville. Bentonville Ignite culinary students will be graduating next month and going into the workforce, to college or to additional technical training. Check out nwaonline.com/220422Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
 
 
  photo  Bentonville Ignite student Joshua Shanks plates a tomato feta crustini with a fig glaze, Thursday, April 21, 2022 at Brightwater in Bentonville. Bentonville Ignite culinary students will be graduating next month and going into the workforce, to college or to additional technical training. Check out nwaonline.com/220422Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
 
 
  photo  Fayetteville school board member Keaton Smith shakes hands with Kennedy Foster Wednesday April 13, 2022 during the second Career and Technical Education (CTE) Signing Day at Fayetteville High School. Thirty-five Fayetteville High School seniors were recognized during event. The CTE seniors are either directly entering the workforce in a CTE program, are pursuing post-secondary education in a CTE field on scholarship, or are entering the military to serve in a CTE area. Foster is going to Harding University to study Cognitive neuroscience. Fayetteville Public Schools students are offered ten programs of study in CTE: Agriculture, Business and Marketing, Family and Consumer Sciences, Film, Jobs for America?s Graduates (JAG), Medical Professions, Photography, Pre-Engineering, Sports Medicine, and Television. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)
 
 
  photo  Fayetteville school board members congratulate seniors Wednesday April 13, 2022 during the second Career and Technical Education (CTE) Signing Day at Fayetteville High School. Thirty-five Fayetteville High School seniors were recognized during event. The CTE seniors are either directly entering the workforce in a CTE program, are pursuing post-secondary education in a CTE field on scholarship, or are entering the military to serve in a CTE area. Foster is going to Harding University to study Cognitive neuroscience. Fayetteville Public Schools students are offered ten programs of study in CTE: Agriculture, Business and Marketing, Family and Consumer Sciences, Film, Jobs for America?s Graduates (JAG), Medical Professions, Photography, Pre-Engineering, Sports Medicine, and Television. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)
 
 

 



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