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Celebrate real-world connections in education

State Superintendent Tony Evers

February is Career and Technical Education month, and it’s one of my favorite months of the year because I have the opportunity to visit CTE programs across the state to learn about our CTE super heroes, especially the students.

Students in our CTE classes are applying core academic knowledge to real world problems.

For example, the students at Eleva-Strum High School learn and work at Cardinal Industries, a school-based business that fills a need for customized metal fabrication. This sophisticated metal working operation allows students to use their classroom learning to find creative solutions to customer needs for single or small run parts throughout northwest Wisconsin. Older students tutor younger entries to the program, which reinforces learning and models workplace training and mentoring activities.

CTE coursework is relevant learning that engages students. The kids in the La Crosse Health Science Academy are getting a chance to figure out if health care is the right field for them through career exploration, job shadowing, mentoring, internships and field experiences. Students study English and science at the Health Science Consortium Building on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus. They also gain CPR skills and learn about various health occupations and medical terminology, acquiring a sense of the knowledge and skills needed in the health science industry. The academy is an opportunity for the community to improve diversity in health care by recruiting students with potential who may not have been thinking about careers in health, essentially “growing your own” health care workers.

Because CTE students experience the connection between what they learn and what a future career demands, they have a higher graduation rate than other students across the state. It’s a mistake to think CTE is a route for students who can’t “hack it” academically. Today’s CTE coursework requires understanding core academics applied in relevant, real-world applications. In fact, the applied academics of CTE are the kind of skill-building every student needs regardless of their plans after high school, be it the workforce, military, technical college, or a two- or four-year degree. Many CTE programs offer dual credit opportunities in which students earn both high school and college credit.

One element of CTE that makes it so successful is the business and industry partnerships that work with our schools and educators. As any savvy business leader knows, to be pro-business, you have to be pro-education. With high youth unemployment rates and employers struggling to find skilled workers, the focus on CTE is a reliable route to a skilled workforce that provides family-supporting jobs.

As we “Celebrate CTE Superheroes,” this year’s CTE month theme, remember that all superheroes have a strong support network. The collaboration among schools, businesses and postsecondary education really makes CTE work. My goal is for every student to be prepared for college and careers and CTE plays an important role in that.

So let’s celebrate CTE month and find more ways to be involved in CTE’s real-world connections.

State Superintendent Tony Evers oversees the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction