One of my pet peeves is hearing how Career and Technical Education is the best-kept secret in education. It’s true, of course – CTE can significantly improve outcomes for students, as the good folks at ACTE will be happy to share with you – which is why it’s so frustrating. There are so many people trying things in education that simply don’t work for whatever reason, yet here in CTE we have a proven way of increasing student engagement, performance, and outcomes, and people are still not giving the field the credit or attention it deserves.
I understand why that may be the case, of course. I understand there are some legacy issues in CTE that don’t reflect current practice, but still color some peoples’ perceptions. I understand that policy priorities continue to emphasize academics and college-for-all over career and life readiness. I also understand that as long as the conversation stays within the education community, the fact that CTE is not already fully represented at the table means that they will continue to receive less attention than they deserve.
That’s one of the reasons I believe so much in community engagement. If policy and practice are determined primarily by educators talking to educators (and that includes education policymakers), little will change. Outside stakeholders, including parents, employers, civic leaders and the media can also influence practice, particularly if the attention is received by school and district leaders.
Work-based learning and advisory boards are excellent strategies for engaging those parties, but a chronically underused strategy is to focus on charitable work by having students provide professional-quality services to those in need.
Consider this recent story from Boston, reported by the CBS affiliate there:
Future Mechanics Repair Car for Haverhill Veteran
A unique partnership between the Minuteman Vocational Technical High School and a non-profit helps a local veteran get a car and gives future car mechanics valuable experience and a great feeling of helping someone out.
Aris Lopez, a Coast Guard veteran, smiled ear to ear as the cover came off the first car he’s ever owned. “I went a long time just being in survivor mode, trying to figure out what the next step is going to be. I’m glad to feel this big break,” he said.
The 2004 Volkswagen was donated to Second Chance Cars, a one-year-old organization with the goal of putting low-income veterans in the driver’s seat.
“This is the kind of moment where you can go from hoping to survive, to potentially thriving,” said Dan Holin, head of Second Chance.
But it’s the automotive technology students at Lexington’s Minuteman Voke Tech who did the work to get the car road-ready, making repairs and checking tires, brakes, and the electrical system.
The news media loves this kind of story, and it’s a major win for the schools: Great awareness, great image, and proof that a school is truly connected to its communities, something that many school systems struggle to convey. Aside from the direct good that these students have done, and aside from the real-world experience they have gained, this kind of story does so much to build the image of CTE both inside and outside the school. It gives both CTE educators and their stakeholders (particularly, but not exclusively, employers) the kind of ammunition to reach out to district leaders to argue for an increase focus on CTE.
So if you want a true seat at the table, or even if you just want to do some good in this world, consider charitable engagement as part of your WBL and outreach strategy – the dividends can be outstanding.
Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.