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CTE: Creating opportunities for students

6 min read

Career-Technical Education

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In California, our three small districts are maximizing the value of career and technical education courses through an innovative system. As superintendent of the Colton-Redlands-Yucaipa Regional Occupation Program, I have found that a solid college and career readiness program is based in deep community engagement, rigorous core courses and strong student support that can be expanded with the right mix of technology and hands-on experiences. My team at CRY-ROP provides targeted support, curriculum, internships and many other opportunities to the students in each of our three districts. This summer, we look to expand on past success through our Career Express Online.

The value of CTE has become more and more apparent in recent years as a way to better prepare students for life after graduation. Excitingly, many industries have expressed an increased need for workers that have hands-on, real-life experience, rather than looking just at a college degree. CTE provides opportunities to explore emerging career paths. Research shows that the completion of career-focused courses result in the development of 21st-century skills, including problem-solving, project completion, research, effective communication, time management and critical thinking.

Research by the Southern Regional Education Board shows that CTE courses better prepare students for college and life; 80% of students taking CTE courses in addition to a rigorous academic core meet college and career readiness goals, compared with 63% of students taking the exact same rigorous academic core, without CTE (CTE Works for High School Students, 2013).

The social and economic conditions of the 21st century demand that every community engage in conversations and take action to remove obstacles to student success. CRY-ROP relies heavily on our deep-rooted relationships with the industries in our community. Each of our educators at CRY-ROP is also an expert in their field. With the implementation of our Career Express Online, we are able to offer our students a wider variety of career pathways that include an expert in that field is leading instruction. Because of our careful planning, students enrolling in our Career Express Online, as well as traditional CTE courses, now have more than 40 different career pathways to explore, in each of the 15 industry sectors.

Internship opportunities emerge from the extended network of industry professionals who teach our courses. It is important that we engage companies and individual professionals effectively and in ways that fit their schedules as well as meet the needs of students. For instance, some of our industry partners participate in mock interviews with students once or twice a year, while others visit classrooms as guest speakers. Industry field trips, both virtual and live, also provide a creative way to experience the world of work. Internships and job-shadow options are more time intensive, but provide sound experiences that benefit students. Any way you slice it, it is of the utmost importance that students connect with professionals throughout their career exploration journey.

One of the many benefits of hiring teachers who are also experts in their field is that they maintain valuable industry contacts. From these contacts, CRY-ROP is able to provide programmatic supports that encourage a more holistic approach to college and career readiness. Another, maybe less traditional, but exceptionally valuable aspect of our relationships with industry is that our teachers also participate in job shadow and internship experiences to ensure that they too stay current with the workplace environment and trends.

Each school we support has a designated career readiness specialist that is available to help students navigate what can be a bewildering array of opportunities. CRY-ROP provides over 40 career tracks at varying levels of intensity and depth. Career readiness specialists provide guidance, recruitment and placement services on each high-school campus that CRY-ROP serves. These support professionals help to create a learning continuum for students that addresses both academic and career success indicators.

Career Express Online will be used to expand options for students to include online classes. These programs feature a rich multimedia format that includes interactive tutorials, avatars, whiteboard illustrations, examples that the students can manipulate, practice games, videos and more. The courses focus on student engagement and motivation while giving us the ability to offer a wider variety of courses in each of the 15 career sectors.

As CRY-ROP embraces the complexity associated creating an aligned, 21st century system to prepare students for the competitive global economy, our focus is on knowledge, skills and innovation. Career Express Online is our response to the changing needs of educational delivery. Our launch of Career Express Online is intended to encourage the use of technology to complement educational pathway activities. The new economy requires various skill sets, specifically proficient in thinking and complex communication skills, as well as the use of the most advanced methods of innovation. Our vision is that Career Express Online will enhance the student experience and provide access to high-growth and emerging industries. Our goal is to empower students to imagine their futures and provide possibilities to explore that future.

Career Express Online provides students with expanded access to opportunities to attain the skills, knowledge, and abilities needed to be successful; and, because they are delivered virtually, students have autonomy to set their own schedule, while learning the discipline necessary to follow through on their commitments. Students quickly learn about their interests and they can easily explore multiple fields simultaneously. At the end of the day, we are all charged with ensuring each and every student we serve is fully prepared for life after high school, we take that responsibility to heart and look forward to the full implementation of Career Express Online this summer.

Stephanie Houston is superintendent of Colton-Redlands-Yucaipa Occupational Program (CRY-ROP) in California. Since starting as a career and technical education professional 20 years ago, she has been a CTE teacher, program manager and director. Superintendent Houston can be reached via email at

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