'You Can't Teach Everybody The Same, Like Robots'-- Perspectives From Inside A CTE High School
About 44,000 high school students across West Virginia are enrolled in Career and Techincal Education courses across — about 30 percent of the overall high school population.
The graduation rate for students involved in CTE programs was 8 percent higher than the overall graduation rate in 2018, according to the West Virginia Department of Education, and 96 percent of students who attend career and technical schools graduate high school within four years.
As a recent graduate of the Fayette Institute of Technology in southern West Virginia, I am one of them. Inside Appalachia has been mentoring my class, teaching radio storytelling, and I produced this story about my experience.
When I decided I wanted to be a chef, I thought there might be a home economics class in middle school to help me start on my path to culinary greatness. But there wasn’t. When I got to high school, a culinary arts class was offered at our CTE school. The school here is a completely separate building from our high school. When it came time to enroll, I didn't think twice.
But as graduation came closer, and I began applying for colleges, I started to wonder if I had made the right decision. I began asking my classmates and school staff if they though going to a CTE high school helps students who are looking at college?
One of my fellow classmates is Kristen Williams, who like me, loved the benefits of learning through practical experience.
“Here we're learning something hands on, and we're able to actually keep that information.” Williams said she she liked the CTE program because it helped break down the stereotype that college is the only path forward.
“This school gives kids a reason to come to school every day. I think trade schools are very helpful in the workforce and in school helps kids find what they want to do when they don't want to go to college,” she said.
Williams plans to get a job as an auto mechanic after graduation, but that isn’t the only option. Many CTE programs across the state offer classes for media production, cooking, and even classes that help prepare students for the medical field.
“They definitely help students get jobs out in the industry,” said welding instructor Roy Neal Jr. “I have a lot of employers call, looking for students, because they know the quality of students that I send out of here. They want somebody who has the basic understanding of a trade.”
Neal said people don’t often talk about the benefits of a vocational high school. “I think it should be promoted more in the high schools through the guidance counselors. They push college students hard. Students ought to be informed of the opportunities that they have in a vocational school as long as they have all their academic credits caught up,” he said.
Neal said he thinks CTE classes not only teach students important workforce related skills, but also help to reinforce what is learned in a traditional classroom
“I've had students come through this program that probably would have dropped out of school. You can't teach everybody the same, like robots. Everybody has a different technique of learning, different techniques of doing things,” he said.
Multimedia and publishing student Stormie Surface has seen first hand the appeal of hands-on education among her peers.
“I’ve had friends who want to drop out, but when they started their vocational class, they loved it so much that they wanted to stay in school just because it was something they looked forward to every day,” Surface said.
But not everyone is good fit for a CTE program. Marcayla King was considering taking the pharmacy classes offered at F.I.T., but had a change of heart.
“I chose against it because I didn’t want to be chained down to one career. I wanted to expand my careers, to see what I wanted to go into.”
King is considering going into pathology as she graduates, so the idea of not being able to take more STEM classes at her school made her a little uneasy about going to F.I.T.
In the end, Marcayla did change her career choice. Instead of pharmacy, she wants to study biochemistry and pathology. She plans to attend West Virginia University in the fall.
I get what she means; a CTE school probably wouldn’t have given her the chance to focus as much of her time on AP chemistry and other sciences. But I disagree that she would have had to choose only one career path if she’d chosen a CTE track.
Actually, I changed career plans myself. Though I initially wanted to go into culinary arts and become a chef, I got to take a multimedia arts class at my school. Now I am hoping to pursue a career in media.
Trade schools are often looked down upon and get a bad rap, because of what they’re designed to do. Some people see them as an option for kids who would otherwise drop out. But around my community, it’s not stigmatized as much as it is in other places. My dad also went to a trade school for his high school, and that’s how it is for many of my friends and neighbors.
One thing I realized while interviewing people for this story, is that everybody doesn’t learn the same way. Some people do learn through books -- but others really like hands on training. At school, I was never the kid with straight As. When it came to the hands-on projects, I excelled. And while CTE schools aren’t for everybody, for a lot of students, including me, they work.
TJ Ellison graduated from the Fayette Institute of Technology a few days after he filed that story. He hopes to study media in college this fall. Senior Ashton Huffman helped report this story and WVPB’s Corey Knollinger and Roxy Todd helped produce it. This story is featured in a recent episode of Inside Appalachia, which explores the challenges and beneftis of career and trade programs in high school.