12/9/18 ABSS offers a wide array of career and tech ed courses
|Not just ‘home ec’ anymore|
Robert Tomason / Times-News
Western Alamance High School students Cameron Allen, London Hamlett, Adrian Boone, and Jonathan Lains stir batter to make brownies from scratch in the Foods 1 course taught by Amy Carter, the Family and Consumer Science instructor for the Career and Tech Education program.
ABSS offers a wide array of career and tech ed courses
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 12/9/18
Reprinted with permission.
Whatever happened to home ec and woodshop?
The courses aren’t called that anymore, but students in the Alamance-Burlington School System are still learning how to prepare meals, care for babies, budget, and hammer nails — plus many, many other things.
In total, ABSS offers 30 Career and Technical Education programs:
• biomedical technology;
• pharmacy tech;
• finance and accounting;
• food and nutrition;
• web design;
• computer science;
• Microsoft Office applications;
• game design;
• digital media;
• agricultural mechanics;
• animal science;
• career development;
• interior design;
• child development;
• computer repair; and
• science, technology, engineering and math. “Folks don’t realize all that we do have, and we do have quite a bit,” CTE Director Robin Bowers said Thursday, Nov. 29. Bowers has worked for the school system since Alamance County Schools merged with Burlington City Schools in 1996. Opportunities have grown quite a bit since then.
In 2012, ABSS opened its Career and Technical Education Center on Buckingham Road in Burlington.
It’s an extension of all six high schools that offers courses in automotive, engineering, culinary, health sciences and computer science, and has the capacity for 500 students at one time. Many programs have a waitlist.
But while opening CTEC was certainly a win for the CTE department, it’s also caused a lot of confusion about whether courses are still offered at the district’s high schools.
The fact is, yes, CTE courses are still offered at all six high schools and even in the middle schools, but some schools have courses that others don’t. It’s based on demand — from both students and the surrounding community.
“We don’t just arbitrarily decide, ‘Oh, we want to add such-and-such at this school because we have five kids that really want it or a teacher that really wants to teach it,’” Bowers said. “We need to have, either locally in Alamance County or regionally, jobs in it, because ultimately our goal is to expose students to these different careers but also allow them the opportunity to go work in those careers.”
Alamance County’s central location, sandwiched between the Triad and the Triangle, has made it an ideal location for companies like LabCorp, Glen Raven, GKN Driveline, Copeland Fabrics and more. And these companies are involved in the community.
“Our partnerships, locally, are outstanding,” Bowers said. “We have community support at such a higher level than other folks that I talk to when I meet with CTE directors statewide. We’re just very thankful for our community. They help us do what we do.”
In 2016, ABSS partnered with Alamance Community College and seven local companies to launch the Career Accelerator Program, a four-year apprenticeship that gives recent high school graduates a full ride to college and a guaranteed job with benefits — all at the age of 18.
The mentoring company pays their apprentice for on-the-job training and covers any costs associated with taking relevant courses at ACC. So long as students maintain a good GPA and work hard, there are jobs paying $35,000 to $50,000 waiting for them at the end of the journey.
ABSS also partners with ACC for the Career and College Promise program, a statewide initiative that allows juniors and seniors to take community college courses, tuition-free, while still in high school.
ACC offers courses at convenient times for ABSS students and the school system provides transportation and textbooks.
Within the business community, many places offer job shadowing opportunities, allowing students to spend a day (four hours or more) following one of their employees.
Sometimes that experience reinforces their dream, and sometimes it’s a harsh dose of reality.
“That exposure, that real world component, is just as important for the kids to determine it’s not what they want to do. They might think it’s what they want to do until they see what it is,” Bowers said.
One student who had always dreamed of owning a bakery ended up realizing it wasn’t ‘a piece of cake’ after shadowing a baker who required a test on fractions. That so much mathematics was involved was dumbfounding.
“You have to quickly, on the fly, double a recipe or halve a recipe, and it’s just interesting to see that lightbulb moment with the students,” Bowers said.
While a large piece of Career and Technical Education is preparing students to enter the workforce, that isn’t the only piece. More and more, CTE has become a way to get a leg up in the college application process.
“The biggest difference between what Career and Tech Ed used to be, back when it was vocational education, and what it is now is that I think, more than ever, CTE is for all students,” Bowers said. “And we’re really working to change that perception with parents. … Years ago, the people that were going to go into vocational education were the students that were going straight to the workforce. Nowadays, to have exposure to that career early and learn some of those skills early on and have the opportunity to earn some industry credentials, perhaps have an internship, is going to give you a leg up in your college career. Just because you go into CTE doesn’t mean you’re not going to college.”
In order to market CTE courses to college-bound students who are concerned about their GPAs, Bowers’ department has focused on expanding honors and Advanced Placement CTE courses.
They’ve also worked to promote the academic piece of each program. Carpentry involves math, horticulture: biology, culinary: chemistry. And CTE students have more than a 90 percent graduate rate. The average four-year graduation rate for all ABSS high school students is 81.3 percent.
“It doesn’t just help students realize what they want to do or what they want to be,” Bowers said. “Sometimes, it helps the student to understand a core subject area that maybe they didn’t understand before because they’ve had that real world experience working with it. Something we’ve done in the past few years is work with our CTE teachers to make sure they’re using the same terminology and vocabulary when they’re teaching the same or a similar content as maybe the math teacher.”
But CTE doesn’t apply only to high schoolers.
In January 2018, Turrentine Middle School hosted its third annual Career Fair. With high school registration in February, the event aims to get eighthgraders thinking about the courses they might want to take over the next four years, and the major or job they might want to pursue after they graduate.
“We tell them, you know, ‘If you know at 13 and 14 what you want to do, that’s great; you’re going to change your mind,’” Michael Falk, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Turrentine who helped organize the fair, told the Times-News, “but we’re trying to give them as much exposure as we can to start thinking.”
To aid in that mission, ABSS added a middle school Career Development Coordinator this year. Mark Clapp organizes career fairs, industry tours, field trips and guest speakers — all with the intention of getting middle schoolers thinking about possible career paths.
“I think you’re going to see a new focus, statewide, in CTE on career exposure earlier, and I don’t really know what that will look like, but for right now, in ABSS, we’re starting with that middle school CDC and seeing what that becomes,” Bowers said. “But I’m excited to see what the state puts together as far as options for us to pull together for middle school.”
There’s another big push to increase skilled trade courses.
And now that the school system’s $150 million bond issue has passed, Graham High School is set to house the new ABSS Career Academy: a school-within-a-school, open to students from across the county, that offers courses in firefighting, public safety and emergency medical services as well as skilled trades like HVAC, electrical, welding, masonry, plumbing and carpentry.
Baby boomers are aging out of their jobs in these fields, leaving a high demand for young, skilled workers to replace them. This demand, coupled with the rising cost of college tuition, has caused many students to head to trade school or community college in place of a four-year university, and ABSS and ACC are trying to provide those opportunities.
Graham’s transformation has already begun in the form of the Graham Fire Academy, which teaches firefighting, public safety and emergency medical services courses to students from all six high schools.
Bowers says they were lucky to find someone as experienced as Joel Davis, who spent 14 years with the Burlington Fire Department and six years with Alamance County EMS, to get the program off the ground.
“The process of finding teachers and getting the word out is interesting, and you hear that across the state,” Bowers said. “Health Science is an area that’s really hard to hire. It’s really, really hard to hire. And a lot of school districts, when they get their Health Science teachers and they go through the whole process and they’re just about done with their teaching licensure, [the teacher] will go back to working as a nurse. We’ve been pretty lucky here. We have a pretty strong group of folks.”
One of Bowers’ favorite aspects of her job is that she gets to learn about so many different fields from experts with years of experience. Another favorite aspect is seeing how CTE changes lives. Each year, the ABSS CTE department comes up with a new logo to match their hashtag #ABSSCTE.
This year, it’s an outline of North Carolina filled with all of the different program offerings and a green heart where Alamance County is. Alongside that, it says “#ABSSCTE: Learn it, Love it, Live it,” which Bowers is particularly proud of.
It encompasses their mission: teaching skills that will lead students to a career they love so they can have a fulfilling and wonderful life.