Finding New Strengths with Career and Technical Education

Finding New Strengths with Career and Technical Education
Posted on 12/07/2016

In our most recent issue of The Compass, our co-publication with Hill Country News, you may have read about recent Cedar Park High School graduate Charlie Hoppe, who won first place in the state Future Farmers of America (FFA) competition in extemporaneous speaking last year. Charlie is now a state officer for FFA, traveling around Texas to give educational workshops and to encourage students to join FFA. I enjoyed learning about Charlie’s story, not only because of what he has accomplished at such a young age, but because of how he got there. He did not come from an agricultural background; he wanted to get involved and try something new, so he joined FFA, learned about the various programs and tried a few things until he found his niche and poured himself into finding success.

Before getting involved, Charlie said he did not realize how many different aspects there are to an organization like FFA. He first started by showing pigs through 4-H until he discovered the public speaking competition in which students prepare and deliver a speech and answer judges’ questions about different agricultural issues. Charlie eventually moved into extemporaneous public speaking where students are given 30 minutes to prepare remarks on a randomly selected agriculture topic.

Through his experiences, he acquired a wealth of skills that will serve him for the rest of his life – comfort speaking before large audiences, research, writing, memorization, formulating and defending an argument, critical thinking, determination, responsibility and ambition, in addition to the knowledge he gained of so many agricultural concepts. Charlie also graduated with more than $35,000 in scholarships, earned through FFA and speaking competitions, which he is using to study agricultural economics at Texas A&M. All from a student who simply wanted to find somewhere to get involved!

Those of you who participated in the Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation (LEEF) Mudstacle & Family Adventure Run at Vista Ridge High School in October had an opportunity to see firsthand our students putting their skills and knowledge to work outside the classroom. Several students from the Viperbots robotics team at Vandegrift High School volunteered to design and build an electric foam machine that created a mountain of suds for runners to cross through at the end of the race. These students’ entrepreneurial spirit took it one step further by making their foam machine available to rent for parties.

These two stories are only a snapshot of what students are learning every day in our classes and in the field. Leander ISD has a robust catalog of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at each of our high schools, available to all students regardless of which school they are zoned to, to help jump-start students on their path toward a career. Students are encouraged to create a balanced four-year plan that includes both academic and CTE classes that will introduce them to potential career fields and develop the knowledge and skills needed to get a job in that field. For most students entering high school, their familiarity with different career options is typically limited to jobs their family members hold or general fields associated with a uniform or title – doctor, lawyer, athlete, law enforcement, etc. CTE courses help to not only introduce students to industries they may not be familiar with, but also to identify more specific careers – computer systems analyst, biomedical engineer, hotel management, software developer, aesthetician – and map out how to get there. Once students start to gain a better understanding of different careers and try them on, so to speak, they can see which fields interest them and which may not be a good fit.

We are currently making some exciting changes to our CTE program, which I look forward to sharing with you in the spring. In the meantime, I am extremely proud and humbled to see what our students and teachers are accomplishing together, in and out of the classroom. What an exemplary model of leading to a bright future!