How Career and Technical Education Prepares Students for Fulfilling and Productive Lives
According to University of Connecticut researcher Shaun M. Dougherty, students with a career concentration do better in all areas of high school—and are more likely to graduate, be employed, and earn higher wages.
During Feb., National Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, and every month throughout the year, Milton Hershey School helps students explore career options and commit to a concentration within our CTE program. The goal is for them to find their passions and prepare to lead fulfilling and productive lives.
“College and career readiness is an area of focus at MHS because of the ownership we have with the kids,” said Dave Curry, MHS Career and Technical Education. “We not only want them to succeed here, but we care about their success after they graduate.”
Through hands-on learning, industry-recognized certification opportunities, and professional experience in the workplace, our students are gaining both the technical skills and broad, 21st century skills needed to succeed in college and the modern workforce.
Exploring Their Interests and Selecting a Pathway
The first step in any CTE program is helping students choose a career concentration. At MHS, students select from 11 pathways that cover a wide range of industries and interests.
“For a lot of kids, they want to go into something they find useful and purposeful,” explained Curry. “We’re continuing to do more things on the front end to place students in the appropriate pathway.”
This includes early exposure. Starting in elementary school, MHS students learn about CTE pathways through career fairs, interactions with older students who are enrolled in the program, and follow-up reflections to help them express what they like about various careers and skills they would like to learn.
At the middle school level, MHS students complete rotations and receive skills-based education in all 11 pathways. At the end of eighth grade, students can visit the high school and tour innovative CTE classrooms including the TV studio, courtroom, culinary kitchen, and more. Every exposure activity is designed to help students discover their interests, and by the end of freshman year, they are required to commit to one pathway.
Certification Opportunities and Workplace Learning Experiences
As students begin receiving in-depth CTE instruction, they work to receive four credits throughout their high school career. They also have more than 70 state and nationally recognized certification opportunities to help them build technical skills that are in high demand. For seven consecutive years, every MHS senior has graduated with at least one industry-recognized certification, and for the Class of 2017, all seniors are on track to receive two certifications.
MHS classrooms also simulate real work environments as much as possible. In the on-campus auto shop, students are changing tires and brake pads. In the graphic arts print shop, students are designing material and learning how to manage printing machines. By developing these tangible, real-world skills, they are also developing knowledge and skills that benefit local businesses.
“One of the most exciting parts of our program is the relationships we have with businesses in our community,” Curry said. “They’re putting the students to work, and for the most part, they’re treating them the way they would treat their employees.”
Through the Spartan Internship program, students can complete an internship during the summer before their senior year. In 2016, a record number of 81 students participated in the program and interned at 25 local businesses—including the Governor’s Office, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, health care clinics, restaurants, animal clinics, and more.
“For our students, there’s more to it than just the CTE programming. Some of it is learning work ethic and learning to be a professional,” Curry added. “Internships help some students solidify what they want to do, but some are also figuring out what they don’t want to do— and that’s beneficial, too.”
College and Career Readiness
When students begin their senior year, many have completed internships in their field of study and have already earned four CTE credits.
“A lot of students are on fire about these careers at the end of their junior year, so during their senior year, we start preparing them for the next level,” Curry explained. “We want to keep their [excitement] flowing and give them an opportunity to challenge themselves.”
One of these opportunities is enrolling in college classes. For MHS students who want to pursue higher education after graduation, they can enroll in classes two or three days a week at a local college. For ambitious seniors who have met their graduation requirements by January, they also can take full-time college classes on-campus through the school’s partnership with Temple University—and begin their college careers approximately 17 credits ahead.
For students who want to enter the workforce after gradation, they can complete co-op programs or diversified occupations programs during their senior year. These initiatives help them learn how to manage their time and thrive in a professional environment.
“Our CTE programming is meant to give students the skills they need in a particular area, but we’re also giving them skills that are going to transfer to whatever they want to do,” Curry said. “When teachers hear back from former students and they’re doing well, there’s nothing better.”
To incorporate Career and Technical Education from the elementary to the high school level, start with these steps:
- Expose students to CTE pathways and programming as early as possible to begin building their interest.
- Combine academic programming with career-based learning opportunities. The two should go hand in hand.
- Simulate a real work environment in the classroom as much as possible.
- Build mutually beneficial relationships with local businesses that can offer student internships.
- Work with local colleges and universities to give high school seniors opportunities to expand their knowledge and earn college credits.
- Teach broad concepts along with technical skills, so students learn how to act professionally, think critically, and manage their time—skills that are relevant to all industries.
MHS Professionals Blog
No matter what level of interaction MHS staff members have with students, everyone’s work contributes to our goal of building brighter futures through a top-notch education. Read the blogs of our professionals and hear from the talented individuals who live out the school’s mission.