Best Kept Secret

By Chris Copeland

When my son was preparing to enter high school we attended a special evening to learn about the different programs offered in our county. We are fortunate that there is a lot to choose from, several magnet schools along with signature programs offering career pathways in areas from homeland security to international economics and trade.

I knew about most of the options, but I don’t remember anything being said about career and technical education. It wasn’t until my son was already happily situated in the STEM magnet program that I found out that our county has TWO applied technology schools.  

Now that I’m working for NC3T, I’ve begun to wonder how it was possible to not know these schools existed. I called a couple of friends. The first had five children graduate from county schools and go on to get college degrees. I called her and asked, “What do you know about career and technical education in our county?” Her response, “Almost nothing.” Ironically, one of her sons is now training to become an electrician. It was the same response from another friend who has one child who graduated from the International Baccalaureate program and another who is a high school sophomore. She has some vague knowledge that we might have some kind of “vo-tech” program, but she really isn’t sure about it. She said she doesn’t know anyone in such a program now. And that made me think about all of my son’s friends, going as far back to elementary school, and I realized I didn’t know any CTE students either.

Which makes me wonder why we don’t hear more about these programs. Working with NC3T has given me a deep appreciation for the importance of CTE programs. They fill a vital need for students, businesses, and the community. Yet there are still too many people who think of them as a dead end for kids unlikely to succeed in any sort of “regular” academic program and who don’t understand that current CTE offers pathways to professional certifications as well as postsecondary education. In fact, not only are many students succeeding in CTE, they’re thriving, while many college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.

We need to do a better job of getting the word out about these programs and the fact that they can be the right fit for any student. We need to describe the pathways that are offered and the results that can be achieved. There’s no reason for CTE to be a well-kept secret.