Career and Technical Education: A Path to Success
By Yvonne Morgan
I was a college bound “A” student so when I made the choice to attend The Academy of Science and Technology (AST), a vocational high school in El Paso, many were confused. AST was home to various career prep programs and its image as a school for students who were not “college material” was not a good one. Yet, attending AST was the best choice I could have ever made.
I was an ambitious teenager and had a clear goal: I wanted to become the first female athletic trainer in the NFL. The only problem was that I needed a college degree, one I knew my parents couldn’t afford. When as a sophomore, I was presented with an opportunity to apply for the nursing program at AST, I knew it was the answer I was looking for. I knew that by completing this program, I would be able to help pay my way through college. I worked hard throughout the two-year program, knowing that the payoff would be completely worth it. By the time I was 18, I was a licensed vocational nurse.
My first year in college was primarily funded by grants and scholarships, but by my second year, I did not qualify for assistance. This could have been devastating for me had it not been for my nursing license. For the next three years, I balanced being a full-time student and a part time nurse. Thankfully, my pay was substantially higher than the minimum wage and I was able to pay for my schooling. While I’m not at the NFL, I’m doing something even more important. Today, I teach health science technology as part of the Career and Technology Education (CTE) track in my school.
When I was in high school, CTE through schools like AST was presented as an alternative to college. This is not the case today. Industries across the board are evolving and CTE provides the perfect avenue to help teach and train a new generation of students. Although CTE has come a long way, programs like ours do not receive the acknowledgement that they deserve. We are no longer just preparing our students for working, instead we are helping them take the first step in finding their passion and future careers. CTE helps develop critical thinkers, collaborators, and professionals with real-world experience. This new generation of students are thirsty for more than just academic work and today’s industries require more than just employees with a certain skill set. It is our job as CTE teachers to make sure our students are globally competitive and technologically savvy.
Improving career and technical education is a major issue across the country. In my home state of Texas, we are now implementing a landmark school finance law, passed during the last legislative session, that could have a powerful impact on CTE. The bill, HB 3, provides incentive funds for school districts for each student who graduates college, career, or military-ready ― and provides a higher incentive payment for low-income students who reach that bar. In addition, HB 3 requires districts to have college, career, and military-readiness plans to ensure that all students are prepared to thrive after high school, and it provides funds for middle schools to offer CTE courses.
School districts should take full advantage of these new opportunities provided by HB 3 ― and do it right. Districts must ensure that CTE courses are aligned to well-paid jobs in the region, change the narrative so that CTE isn’t considered a path for students who aren’t “college material,” and ensure that all CTE students graduate ready for college should they so choose. Finally, they should prioritize recruiting and retaining outstanding CTE teachers who can set their students on a path to a rewarding career. One of the problems we face as CTE teachers is that many times highly qualified professionals will have to take a pay cut when entering the teaching profession from the industry. One solution would be for districts to utilize some of the extra funds for CTE teachers.
I prepare students to enter both the workforce and the classroom. I teach in an area in which over 90 percent of my students come from a low socioeconomic background and must work to help with household expenses and to pay for their school activities. I teach many students who, just like me, have the dreams but not the means to attend a university. This is why I advocate for my students and push them past their own limits. For a student who feels like they have no way to pay for college, the work we do as CTE teachers makes a real difference. For many students, passing an industry-based certification gives them the confidence they needed to help them realize that they are capable of greatness. This confidence will stay with them whatever they decide to do next ― be it college or workplace.
Yvonne Morgan teaches upper level practicum in health science technology courses specializing in therapeutic careers and sports medicine at the School of Health Professions at the Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center in Dallas. She is a 2019–20 Teach Plus Texas DFW Policy Fellow.