Career and Technology Education programs help prepare students for college, career and life

By the Montgomery County Board of Education

When a student graduates from Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), they not only have a diploma, they have options. Our goal is to ensure students have the tools to explore those options, whether they enter credit-bearing courses, secure a living-wage job, or pursue a combination of the two.

Students show off their cooking skills at Thomas Edison High School of Technology.

We have to be realistic. Students have many interests and there are many paths they can take to follow their dreams after they leave MCPS. It is our responsibility to ensure all students have the options and choices that they need to be successful in the future.

MCPS has a long history of offering Career and Technology Education (CTE) opportunities in our high schools. CTE Month, held in February, is a chance to celebrate the value of these programs, which offer academic classes that prepare students for college and career, as well as hands-on experience that teaches technical and workplace skills.

CTE connects students with peers who share similar interests and provides them with the opportunity to learn from instructors who are experts in their fields. This invaluable experience opens up avenues to obtain a well-paying job right out of high school, if that is the path a student wishes to take. Additionally, 54 percent of MCPS graduates work while attending college, according to the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education, a nonprofit that helps prepare MCPS students for college and careers. Students with certifications can make good money to help pay for college.

CTE allows students to gain real-world experience and hone in on what they might want to pursue as a profession. Some mistakenly believe that CTE restricts students or puts them on one path. In reality, CTE provides another door for students to pursue their passions. Even if what students become certified in isn’t what they end up doing later in life, CTE helps give meaning to their school experience.

MCPS provides 34 CTE programs of study within 11 career clusters. The programs are made possible by business and other partnerships, as well as by the Automotive, Construction and Technology foundations, a collaboration between MCPS and local business leaders that provides classrooms, lab settings and real-world experiences for students. The programs are rigorous and most offer the opportunity to earn college credit and industry certification.

A number of CTE programs are often available in students’ home schools. For instance, Damascus High School houses the Academy of Information Technology, which allows students to study computer maintenance, programming or web design. Damascus also offers CTE programs in automotive technology, construction technology, restaurant management, television production and horticulture.

Another example is Project Lead the Way: Biosciences and Engineering, which is in several county schools. These application-only programs prepare students for various biomedical sciences and engineering fields and allow them to become eligible for up to six college credits at various colleges and universities. Wheaton High School is considered to have one of the top five Project Lead the Way programs in the country.

Additionally, students countywide can apply to attend Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Silver Spring, which allows them to experience hands-on learning while maintaining high academic standards that prepare them for higher learning. Seventeen programs — including restaurant management, cosmetology, health professions, graphic design, plumbing, and automotive technology — are open to all students starting in 10th grade and many of the pathways allow students to earn industry certification or college credit. Over 70 percent of Edison graduates attend college and technical schools.

We can do more to make CTE opportunities available to our students, and to better communicate what those opportunities are. Even though we have steady enrollment in the programs, the number of students graduating with college credit, a license or certificate is relatively low. Out of a total 10,284 seniors in 2016, only 1,019 graduated with a license, certificate or college credit from a CTE program. That’s about 10 percent of seniors, a slight increase over the 7.9 percent of graduates who left MCPS with a license, certificate or college credit in 2015. All of our graduates should be exposed to some sort of career experience while they are in MCPS.

Our budget is a reflection of our commitment to expand CTE opportunities. It allows for increasing students’ exposure and access to CTE programs, as well as expanding access to career readiness programs for students who come to the school district but may not be able to earn enough credits to graduate. It will allow for the implementation of an apprenticeship program that will result in more students graduating with an industry certification and ready to enter the workforce. If any 11th grade student is interested in taking a career licensure or certification exam, the SAT or ACT, we will pay for the first test.

Additionally, there are measures MCPS is already taking to improve access to CTE programs. For instance, over the summer, business leaders provided professional development to staff. Six aspects of career readiness training were offered during the summer to all secondary school counselors. MCPS has expanded the use of Naviance, which assists in college and career planning, to help students explore career pathways. A new Edison building will open in spring of 2018 with a financial park run by Junior Achievement of Greater Washington that will allow students to have hands-on financial literacy experience.

MCPS is the economic engine in Montgomery County. Currently, there are 27,000 open jobs in the county right now. According to projections from the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, Montgomery County will need almost 175,000 new workers between 2012 and 2022. We are watching job trends to ensure students have the preparation they need to be viable candidates to fill those roles.

Ensuring our graduates are college- and career-ready not only benefits them, but also provides value to our community. Whatever path our students want to take, we are committed to helping them succeed.

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