Chapel Hill News

Tom Forcella: CTE keeping kids in school, preparing for their future

Last month, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, along with school districts all across the country, celebrated Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. This was a great opportunity to take a closer look at the role our CTE programs play in readying our students for economic success and workforce competitiveness.

I always enjoy visiting our CTE classrooms. I see numerous examples of programs that are not only providing our students with great skills, but also with real opportunities for bright futures. These programs go way beyond the vocational education classes that you and I grew up with.

CHCCS has 1,800 middle school and 1,600 high school students enrolled in CTE courses. These students are learning business skills and earning industry certifications such as Microsoft Office specialist and Cisco certified entry networking technician. They are making real-world connections aligned to their course content areas by participating in internships, and some juniors and seniors are even earning as much as 44 college credit hours while they are still in high school in areas such as nursing, culinary arts and computer programming – all for free.

I must say, Career and Technical Education has come a long way, and is now at the forefront of preparing students to be “college- and career-ready.” CTE equips students with core academic skills and the ability to apply those skills to concrete situations in the workplace and in routine daily activities. These courses also provide our students with employability skills such as critical thinking, responsibility and job-specific, technical skills related to specific career pathways.

These CTE classrooms are, essentially, modern-day laboratories, where students and educators alike are developing the skills that will power the future of college and career success. The goal of these programs is to better prepare students for work and college while making school more relevant.

For example, students enrolled in our Project Lead the Way (PLTW) biomedical sciences courses are exploring the concepts of human medicine and are learning about bioinformatics, including mapping and analyzing DNA. Students in these courses get to play the role of biomedical professionals solving mysteries by dissecting hearts and examining the processes, structures and interactions of the human body. Students in both our PLTW biomedical and engineering courses design and conduct experiments, as well as present their information.

These courses are extremely popular with our students, and we are proposing an expansion so that all three high schools can participate.

Talk about being relevant – and that’s the direction in which our schools need to head. Research shows that the vast majority of dropouts claim relevant, real-world learning opportunities would have kept them in school. While the average national freshman graduation rate is 74.9 percent, the average high school graduation rate for students concentrating in CTE programs is over 90 percent!

Whether it’s our middle school students in an Exploring Life Skills class sewing dresses to be distributed through orphanages, churches, and schools in Africa or our high school students competing in a statewide structural design competition, our CTE programs are absolutely essential for the success of today’s students in our ever-changing world.

As such, I would like to publicly express my appreciation for everyone who has helped make our CTE program a success including our hard-working teachers, administrators, the staff of our Career and Technical Education Department and the local businesses and area colleges who have partnered with us to help deliver quality programs to our students. At a time when job opportunity is so critical, these CTE programs are helping to ensure our students are adequately equipped with the skills to successfully enter the workforce once they have completed their educational careers.

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.