Business Focus: Career & Technical Education at HISD

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Photos by Libby Rogers

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Smith- Hughes Act, which provided federal aid to the states for the purpose of promoting precollegiate vocational education. Formally known as the National Vocational Education Act, this education centered primarily on agricultural and industrial trades and home economics. Although the name has changed over the years, the program still thrives in high schools today. In fact, 91% of the Huntsville Independent School District high school students are currently enrolled in this program, now called the Career and Technical Program.

Marcus Walker, Director of College and Career Readiness at Huntsville High School, explains, “Although the program chiefly targeted the agricultural industry at its outset, its goal is now to prepare students to become a part of anything they want.

We have a responsibility to teach students both vocational and college readiness, leading them to high paying jobs once they leave us.”Although this program finds its full application in Grades 9-12, HISD students entering the 7thcgrade are given an introduction to this system, whereby one can comprehensively plan their entire high school course of study in a field that targets the student’s abilities and interests. Seventh and eighth-grade students are essentially asked what job or career they think they may most enjoy in their adult life. A series of aptitude tests are taken to help determine these interests, after which the students are counseled during their eighth-grade year to determine placement in the appropriate CTE high school program. This 4-year planning helps them explore career opportunities and to make intelligent choices, and through the process to understand that a solid education will enhance their futures.

Since the CTE program is partially federally funded, any student may participate, with no criteria for enrollment required. As Marcus says, “there are no barriers to any student who wants to take advantage of this avenue for their secondary education, and we hope to see 100% enrollment in the future.” Students may choose not to participate in a CTE program but follow a standard education plan instead. One advantage of the CTE experience is that a student can rule out a field of study if they discover their skills are not adequate or their interest wanes. Once this happens, they can meet with a counselor to determine a new direction and course of action.

The Career and Technical Education program offers three exit points. Upon graduation, the student can enter the workforce, attend a
technical school or community college to continue working on their degree, or enroll in a university program. HISD has partnered with Sam Houston State University and Lone Star College to offer dual college credits to their students. Dual credit is a process by which a high school student enrolls in a college course and receives simultaneous academic credit for the course from both the high school and the college. Dual credit courses include both academic courses and technical/workforce courses.

Although Lone Star College is their biggest affiliate, HISD staff will work to ensure a sound and smooth transition with any college or technical school to which a student plans to go. In addition to Lone Star College and SHSU, many students matriculate to Tyler Junior College and Houston Community College, as well as other local colleges and technical schools. HISD students walk away with at least an industry-based certification that can be included on their resume. Several are on track to become lawyers and professionals in their chosen fields, moving toward high paying careers. Marcus shares that one HISD senior is about to take his Network+ exam, which is a major certification. Upon graduation this next spring, he could walk straight into a $55K per year job if he chooses. Along with his studies, he currently works with the technology department networking computers.

In addition to their coursework, students are encouraged to join and participate in Career and TechnicalStudent Organizations such as Health Occupation Students of America, Business Professionals of America, and Future Farmers of America, or another that relates to their field. These provide opportunities for the students to be involved in community service projects, enhanced instructional programs, as well as local, state and national competitions. They also provide social contacts with others who have the same interests and settings in which leadership and communication skills can be developed.

Asked about the future of the CTE program, Marcus states they constantly strive to improve each and every program. They assess the needs of the business community and work to prepare the students to meet these needs. He is hoping that, within the next year or two, they will be able to add another track, that of cybersecurity. Safeguarding online privacy and solving cybercrimes is a new field that they hope to establish a curriculum for. Trying to plan several years ahead and offer to incoming f r e s h m e n tracks that will bring good jobs their way upon graduation is always a challenge.

The CTE program at Huntsville High School provides students a pathway to success and encouragement along the way. The opportunity to gain an education and hone skills in a field of study which the student enjoys will go far in motivating him or her to achieve a high level of success…which benefits not only the student but the community, too. The Career and Technical Education program is a win-win-win for student, school, and community.

For more information, contact Marcus Walker, Director of College & Career Readiness at mlwalker@huntsville-isd.org, Luci Zuniga, CTE Specialist at lrzuniga@hntsville-isd.org or go to the www.huntsville-isd.org.

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