We’re focusing on the power of experiential learning in this episode of Inside Appalachia. We’ll look at how students learn life, academic and practical skills through career and technical education (CTE) programs. The goal of these programs is often to give students an idea of what kind of career they might want to go into after high school.
In a rural Wetzel County, W.Va., community, there’s a high school program that not only has kids raising animals, but they are also processing the meat and selling it. Students learn where their food comes from and couple their real-world experience with work in the classroom.
Studies show that students who go to a career high school have higher graduation rates than their peers who choose a traditional path. According to the West Virginia Department of Education, the graduation rate for students involved in CTE programs was eight percent higher than the overall graduation rate in 2018.
Between March 2019 and March 2020, reporter Corey Knollinger followed several high school students who raised pigs and sold the meat as a way to earn some extra cash at the Wetzel County West Virginia Ham, Bacon, and Egg Show.
A program like this may seem strange to some, but for many kids learning the skills to raise animals is a normal part of growing up. They experience the challenges of raising their own food and learn about long-term planning, regular commitment and problem-solving through many hours of hard work.
Knollinger graduated from high school after completing a media CTE program. He went on to a four-year college where he continued to hone those journalism skills. Later, he completed an internship for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and now works in our newsroom.
In Nashville, Tenn., where the school system faced some of the nation’s worst high school dropout rates, they turned their schools into career academies.
Back in 2014, APM Reports produced a documentary about career schools across the country. Reporter Laurie Stern found out how the community responded to the shift.
Graduation rates have continued to increase in Nashville since the program began. In 2005, the graduation rate hovered around 60 percent before the school system implemented its academy program. Last year, more than 82 percent of students graduated from high school.
In West Virginia, 96 percent of students who attend CTE schools graduate high school within four years, according to an emailed statement from the West Virginia Department of Education. Last year, the state’s overall high school population had the highest graduation rate on record.
Across the Mountain State, about 44 thousand students are enrolled in CTE programs — about 30 percent of the overall high school population.
According to the state Department of Education, 88 percent of all CTE students in West Virginia get a job, join the military, or attend post-secondary education within a year of graduating high school. It’s not clear how the number compares with students who choose a traditional path because the state Department of Education said they do not track those statistics.
Tackling Stereotypes and Stigma Of CTE Education
T.J. Ellison recently graduated from the Fayette Institute of Technology in southern West Virginia. Inside Appalachia has been mentoring his class and teaching radio storytelling.
For his very first story, Ellison focused on his own experience at a CTE school. He set out to learn more about how students and teachers in his community feel about a career and trade school path.
Ellison hopes to study media in college this fall. Senior Ashton Huffman also helped report this story, along with WVPB’s Corey Knollinger.
We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from APM Reports. We had scripting assistance this week from Jesse Wright at 100 Days in Appalachia, which is published at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media Innovation Center.
Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Spencer Elliot, Blue Dot Sessions and John R Miller.
You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.
You can also send us an email at InsideAppalachia@wvpublic.org.
Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.