- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

Like their fathers, Washington-Lee High School students Felix Hernandez, 18, and Regis Diethorn Jr., 16, like to build things.

Jose Hernandez takes his son along to job sites in the Baltimore area as he paints, installs drywall and conducts home repairs. The elder Regis Diethorn takes the younger to building and repair projects in Arlington.

At first, the teens did the cleanup and “gofer” work. Then they signed up for a yearlong Carpentry I class at the Arlington Career Center, where they are learning the rules and regulations of the trade and how to hang drywall, cut rafters, frame walls and draft plans using a computer. Now they work on projects alongside their fathers, and they like going to school.

“It gets me through the day and through the rest of my classes,” Regis Jr. says.

The two teens are among the thousands of D.C.-area high school students participating in career and technical education programs that give them a chance to explore potential careers and interests while gaining job skills.

“It really is a partner to the academic program at the high school,” says William Sullivan, director of the Arlington Career Center at Arlington County Public Schools. “All students, regardless of if they are of the academic elite, should experience career and technology education.”

Arlington’s career, technical and adult education program offers more than 100 courses in trade industries, including carpentry, auto tech and auto body, along with courses in technology, business, marketing, computer science, and family and consumer sciences. This year, 1,200 of the district’s 5,300 high school students are enrolled at the Arlington Career Center to take single courses or sequences of two or more courses.

“If they pursue a program to its completion, they get a skill that can last a lifetime that can be applied in a multiple of ways,” Mr. Sullivan says. “You never know when you need a skill for an avocational or a career pursuit.”

Career and technical education, abbreviated as CTE or career-tech, is a work-force education program focused on developing academic and workplace skills. CTE teaches job skills, applies what students learn in the classroom to the work world, gives students a chance to explore career choices and prepares them for those choices and for post-secondary education, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), an Alexandria-based association founded in 1926.

Career-tech education, originally know as vocational education, has been federally funded since 1917 with the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act. It originally prepared students for trades work immediately after high school, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Vocational education focused on agriculture and home economics in the agrarian economy of the time, then added the trades in the 1940s and 1950s, followed by business and marketing in the 1950s and 1960s, says Thomas Applegate, president of ACTE and executive dean of Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

“Technology and the implementation of technology has dramatically changed the kind of programs we offer and how they are offered,” he says.

The changes correlate with changes in the economy, says Shirley Bazdar, director of career, technical and adult education at Loudoun County Public Schools. “We have gone to a technology-based instead of a production-based economy. … It dictated the curriculum should follow those trends.”

Likewise, ACTE changed its name in 1999 from the American Vocational Association to its current name. In the late 1990s, vocational education became known as career and technical education.

ACTE identifies seven subject areas associated with CTE, including technology, business, marketing, trade and industrial, health, agriculture, and family and consumer sciences. The subject areas are offered in schools across the country in comprehensive high school programs, with classes offered at most or all of the school sites within a school district, and at middle schools and vocational-technical schools.

Loudoun County Public Schools provides a comprehensive program at the district’s 18 middle and high schools as well as a program at C.S. Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg, with industry and trades classes available to high school juniors and seniors.

“That is the place where they have the time, facilities and labs … to explore areas they are interested in,” Mrs. Bazdar says.

Prince George’s County offers a comprehensive program with opportunities for students at the county’s 17 high schools to be employed in a variety of occupations while they attend school, along with 17 programs in the trades and industries at five separate technical academies.

“Many of our students need to see what they learn in the academic setting [connected] to what is going on in the real world,” says George O’Connor, acting supervisor of technology-academy programs at Prince George’s County Public Schools. “We actually enhance the academics through contextual learning.”

Some of what students learn in school will change once they enter the work force, so employers expect students to have problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and to be lifelong learners, says Kathy Kunze, who has a doctorate in counseling and student services. She is the supervisor for career and technical education at Prince William County Public Schools.

“A lot of our courses are geared to making the students responsible for their own instruction,” she says, adding that students learn how to work in teams and do their own research, two skills in demand in the work world.

Almost every high school student takes at least one CTE course, and one in four students takes three or more courses within the same program area, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Even so, a gender gap still exists in traditionally male and female CTE courses.

Mrs. Kunze finds that a few girls are choosing classes in traditionally male subject areas, so that a class of 20 students may include one or two girls, she says. “I just think interests are different. Maybe some of it’s social in the sense [that] we groom boys and girls differently,” she says. “In middle school, all students take technology education and consumer sciences to get exposure to these courses. What we would like … is an informed choice, but it should be a choice.”

“I think those traditional barriers are breaking down,” Mr. Sullivan says. “Young women are seeing opportunities and want to take advantage of them.”

Same with the boys, who are taking nursing, family and consumer sciences, and cosmetology courses in small numbers, says Mat Pasquale, director of career, technical and adult education at Alexandria City Public Schools. “You can’t force students into the program. You provide the information and let them choose,” he says.

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