During a recent meeting of Glen Nation's advanced automotive class at Estacada High School, students fixed a tire on principal Bill Blevins' truck.
"(The class is) more hands on," said Trinity Muren, student in the advanced automotive class. "You can work on stuff within the first week of being there."
According to data from the Oregon Department of Education, graduation rates for students at Estacada High School and Summit Learning Charter in Eagle Creek, who take career technical education courses like Nation's automotive class, have increased within the past several years. For the 2018-19 school year, 86.36% Estacada High School students who took at least one career technical education class, and 90.7% of Estacada High School students who took three or more career technical education (CTE) courses in the same subject area, graduated in four years. For the 2015-16 school year, 79.49% of students who took three or more CTE courses, and 73.11% of students who took at least one CTE course graduated.
Additionally, Estacada students who participate in CTE courses are graduating at a higher rate than the general student population, the latter of which graduated at a rate of 84.55% for the 2018-19 school year.
Meanwhile, at Summit Learning Charter in Eagle Creek, more than 95% of students who took one or more CTE courses graduated last year. In the 2015-16 school year, 80% Summit students who took at least one CTE course graduated, and 85.36% of Summit students who took three or more CTE courses in the same subject area graduated.
"The data is there, and it's that engagement to not just classroom experiences but beyond the classroom. CTE (programs) are lifelong learning lifelong habits," said Estacada High School Principal Bill Blevins.
Engaging students online and in person
At Summit Learning Charter, students can participate in CTE courses like computer science, horticulture, medical technology and journalism. Additionally, those interested can participate in clubs for robotics and 3-D printing.
Many of Summit's classes are taught online, with in-person opportunities for tutoring and enrichment.
"We're looking to give students more opportunities by creating a CTE course track that combines the online component with a physical component," said Summit Learning Charter Principal Sean Gallagher, who sees value in offering a variety of CTE classes. "It's a shift of focus where kids can move their brains from strictly academic to exploratory, and development of hobbies and interests. A well-rounded school experience is all about building the whole learner."
Gallagher attributes the school's increase in graduation rates for CTE students to better understanding their student population.
"We know better what they're searching for. Students can explore our curriculum with our advisors and curate their educational journey," he said.
Facilitating hands-on learning
At Estacada High School, career technical education offerings include automotive, metals, culinary arts, agriculture and journalism. Within the past several years, the high school's CTE program has expanded: metals and automotive have grown from half time to full time programs, and culinary arts and agriculture have been added to the school's offerings.
"The high school has done a good job of adding and tailoring programs that meet the genuine interests of students, particularly in CTE," said Maggie Kelly, communications director for the Estacada School District.
For Estacada High School welding teacher David Richards, it makes sense that students involved with CTE courses are graduating at such high rates.
"That's an easy one. Look at the engagement they have with experimental learning," he said, adding that many students work ahead of schedule. "If they're into it, I'm not going to put the breaks on them and slow that down."
The majority of class time in CTE programs is focused on hands-on learning.
"A lot of time is out in the shop. There are textbooks, but it's not all textbooks. It's a ton of hands on," said Nation. "It's important to be doing things. It's rare that I get a class that stands doing textbook assignments for the whole period."
Culinary arts teacher Abe Bund noted that skills taught in CTE classes are used outside of school — parents of students he teaches will sometimes tell him that their children are cooking more often.
"A lot of them don't know about cooking, and (here) they can learn enough to feed themselves," he said. "We get some (students) who want to go into the business and are taking it for career readiness."
Estacada's CTE programs have received support through Measure 98, which funds college and career readiness and drop out prevention programs in high schools across Oregon. A variety of projects at the high school have been benefited from the funds, including installation of commercial stoves for the culinary arts program and an alignment rack for the automotive program.
"Measure 98 was a paradigm shift. People recognized that there were no kids coming out of school wanting to (go into the trades) and that was a problem," Richards said.
"(CTE) is an instance where facilities really make an impact," Kelly added. "Being able to invest in tools is huge for students who are getting an experience that's going to truly prepare them for careers and pathways outside of school."
CTE students at Estacada High School appreciate the engaging nature of their studies.
"I love to cook, and it's always fun to cook something new," said Isiaah May, a student in the food production class.
"It's a fun group experience," added Isiaah Gibson, another student in the food production class.
Shaffer Johnston likes the hands on nature of the culinary courses.
"They're more interactive," he said.
CTE students appreciate the skills they've gained.
"There's a sense of fulfillment," advanced metals student Trei Christenson said. "In regular classrooms, you don't always see everything applied. Richards doesn't teach anything that we're not going to use later."
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