What do you get when you combine challenging academic courses, a variety of technical training opportunities, and lots of hands-on learning experiences? You get career and technical education – and it’s not the vo-tech your parents or grandparents remember.
Career and technical education, often referred to as CTE, has transformed over the years. There are more than 80 career and technical education centers (CTC) across Pennsylvania that offer dozens of state-approved programs to thousands of students. These innovative programs, which are built on foundations of academic rigor and high expectations for student learning and success, range from architecture to agriculture to engineering to robotics and beyond.
How does a student end up at a CTC? They self-select to enroll, and there are often wait lists.
Entering the workforce immediately after graduating from a CTC isn’t a student’s only option – there are multiple pathways to success. Many students choose to continue their education at colleges and universities, pursue additional training and earn certifications, or enter the military.
But you don’t have to take our word for it. Secretary Rivera recently visited the York County School of Technology to kickoff CTE Month (celebrated annually in February). While there, he met with students and educators, visited a bunch of learning spaces, and learned more about the programs being offered. After the visit ended, he met with two seniors – Jaiere Alford and Aislinn Abbott, who also appeared in a statewide video recently launched to help share the modern CTE story. Here’s what the three of them talked about:
Rivera: Thank you so much for joining me, Jaiere and Aislinn, for this amazing visit. I really enjoyed learning more about the programs being offered at York Tech. I know both of you are seniors this year and you have some big steps ahead of you.
Alford: I’m currently studying advanced manufacturing and looking to go to West Point for college.
Abbott: I’m in the precision metal machine concentration here and I plan to go to college for mechanical engineering.
Rivera: Can you tell me about your journey? How did you ultimately decide to come to York Tech and then decide to go to college?
Abbott: I got involved in a robotics team in fifth grade and I just loved all of the engineering aspects of that program. I found out York Tech had rigorous academic classes as well as hands-on technical experiences, which are so necessary in the industry, and I knew that’s where I wanted to go. Being here helped me realize what I want to do with my future, which is go to college for mechanical engineering and get involved in robotic prosthetics.
Rivera: Robotic prosthetics? That’s amazing! So, Jaiere – West Point is an incredible pathway. It sounds like you made your choice and worked very hard to get there. Tell me about your path.
Alford: My sister came to York Tech, so my mom was familiar with the school’s reputation. She encouraged me to go here, too. Yes, I was kind of scared to leave my friends and come here, but I ultimately made the right decision. I’ve always known I wanted to go into the military and pursue military engineering of some kind, and York Tech has really supported me and helped me get all of the technical training I needed in order to do that.
Rivera: Both of you have told me about your coursework, and I visited your labs and classrooms and can tell students are participating in rigorous courses here. However, sometimes when you hear about a career and technical education center, there’s a stigma attached to it – it may sound something like, “I don’t want to go to a CTC because my options are limited and I want to be able to go college” or “CTE only offers a single pathway – a dead-end.” Clearly, both of you and your peers are disproving that, as are students across the state and nation. So what would you say to someone who says something like that to you?
Abbott: That was my biggest fear coming here, and I could not have been more wrong. When I got here, I actually enrolled in all honors classes, and the next year I took AP classes, and I’m now in the International Baccalaureate Program earning my certificate.
Alford: I agree – I felt the same way, and each year I’ve taken all honors classes. Even though it’s my senior year and I don't have to take as many credits, I’m still taking honors classes. There’s alignment between all of my engineering classes here and the programs at every college I’ve visited. I always liked knowing that I could graduate and go to college, or go straight into the workforce.
Rivera: That’s great, and very, very telling. Is there anything else you want to share with your fellow students across the state, or parents, or educators?
Alford: If you have an opportunity to go to a career and technical education center, I would 100% recommend it. You will gain skills and experiences that you can apply if you choose to enter the workforce or go to college – and you will always have those skills and experiences, regardless of the path you choose in life.
Abbott: You’ll have so many opportunities at a career and technical education center. If you don’t end up enjoying the program you study at first, you can study something else. I think your work here can actually give you a leg-up in college because you have working background experiences and knowledge that others don’t have.
Rivera: You’re both amazing and it was really nice meeting you. Thanks so much for helping to make this such a great Schools That Teach visit today, and for taking the time to share your stories with me.