The Power of Career and Technical Education at Milton Hershey School
By Joel Crowley, MHS Elementary Division Innovation Lab Teacher
Since 2008—when I started teaching at MHS—I found that one of the many magical things about elementary students is their self-confidence, boundless optimism, and curiosity as they explore the world around them. If you ask a third-grade student what they want to be when they grow up, the answer might be an astronaut, professional basketball player, YouTube star, or even President of the United States. Exposure to various Career and Technical Education (CTE) experiences at this age feeds their hungry hearts and minds with opportunities to imagine the possibilities for their future.
The benefit of this exposure is that it gives our students a chance to experience different careers and time to see what opportunities might resonate most with their interests. The excitement that comes from wearing a hard hat while watching a crane lift a roofing truss high in the air is not something that a book or presentation on a screen can capture. That moment might be the spark that kindles a lifelong passion forever altering the course of their lives.
Recently, I took my students to the construction site for the first Early Childhood Resource Center that Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning is building in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This opportunity was priceless for our students as they learned about the construction, engineering, and architecture behind the building process.
MHS was built on a foundation of career readiness. Our campus community provides countless real-world opportunities for student exposure to a wide variety of career fields. From our elementary students who learn about conservation and natural resources while stocking trout at local streams, to the students who visit The Hershey Company to learn how new products are designed and businesses thrive.
During the school day in the technology lab, our third-grade students work together to grow kale hydroponically to create frozen smoothies while our fourth-grade students form companies and “hire” other students to help market and sell these frozen treats. Our goal is to immerse our students in an engaging and interactive learning experience to provide as much real-world exposure as possible—and it pays off.
When I taught fourth grade, I worked with other MHS teachers to create a space camp learning experience for our students. We studied the stars in our inflatable planetarium, built model rockets and spacecraft, and even participated in our own space race. Years later, one of the students who participated shared with me that he had been accepted to Princeton University to study physics—a passion that started in the MHS star lab. I don’t know which of my students are going to tell me a decade from now that what they learned in my classroom ignited a spark inside them, but I want to give them every opportunity to find their spark.
As a teacher at MHS, I’m always learning and growing alongside my students. The emphasis that we place on CTE doesn’t just benefit my students. I get to learn new career skills and fields that I can bring into my classroom. From learning more about space to how to grow kale, I feel honored to learn about the world right beside my students.