CTE students working in Ms. Francis’s class. Photo by Ben Tignor.

This February, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and school districts across the nation celebrated CTE Month.

At Carrboro High School, teachers and students marked the occasion with presentations around the school. For each week of February, the CTE department showcased one of four program areas with large posters and displays positioned in each wing.

The CTE department provides students access to a number of different programs covering subjects including engineering, business, design and other applicable real-world skills.

As Beth Landis, who teaches Adobe software, says, the courses prepare students for “a career, rather than a field of study.” Students are constantly considering what their path will be after graduation, and CTE courses can equip them with experience they may not otherwise gain in a high school setting.

“By taking career and technical education courses while you’re in high school, you get the chance to try out different types of things for free before you go off to a school and are paying tuition to do it,” said Sarah Mack, CTE Populations Coordinator.

While core classes offer students the background knowledge for broad disciplines, CTE courses offer the experience necessary to perform in the workplace. As the job market evolves, so do the demands placed on students entering the workforce. One important function of CTE programs is in closing the “skills gap,” which refers to the difference between the skills that employers are seeking, and the skills the workforce offers. Mack said that Carrboro High School has “historically done an excellent job of promoting academic achievement and pushing people to try harder, apply to really good schools, and get their GPA up, but it’s not enough anymore. What we need to do now is to have that academic rigor along with the skills that students need.”

Students looking to get involved in CTE programs have a number of different available routes to do so. “The best way is, during registration, to sign up for a CTE course,” Mack said. Available fields of study include textiles, engineering, design, electronics, and more throughout the district.

“If you’re not sure which course you want to take, there are some career assessments you can do through Naviance,” said Landis.

Students can also speak to their Career Development Coordinator or a CTE teacher to learn more about pursuing CTE courses. In addition to registering for classes, students can join clubs like DECA, Skills USA, Carrboro Robotics and other career and technical organizations throughout the district.

For students engaged in CTE programs, the experience can be invaluable. Virgilio Hernandez,CHS senior, compared his experience at CHS to his prior school.

“The previous school where I was at, I didn’t have these opportunities,” said Hernandez. As a result of his experience at CHS, he now plans to pursue a career in programming after he graduates.

Jackson Lee, another CHS student, is a member of the DECA leadership club at the school. He spoke about the way in which experience with a leadership group can provide students with valuable exercise presenting in a professional setting. “It’s really one of the most real-world skills you can possibly learn in high school,” Lee said. “I just think it’s so important for kids to learn this at a young age.”

In addition to offering essential skills, CTE courses provide both an alternative to the “traditional” career route, and a way for students to set themselves apart from others when seeking higher education, according to Julie Francis, Business and Marketing teacher at CHS. Francis spoke on the accessibility of Career and Technical Education programs.

“It gives everybody an opportunity. You don’t have to have the highest GPA. You don’t have to be a senior. You don’t have to have any other credentials. It’s about what you’re interested in, and it’s about driving that passion that you have and making it applicable in the real world,” said Francis.

Students who make the decision to pursue those passions in higher education will also benefit from their CTE experiences when applying for schools. Francis spoke about visiting the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School with students, where they found MBA students who had engaged in CTE programs during their high school careers. “They were able to differentiate themselves from other students that were applying for the business school,” said Francis. “When they get into industry, when they get out into the world, they know what the expectation is.”

For students interested in registering for CTE courses in the upcoming registration window, Carrboro High School offers the following courses

  • Apparel and Textile Production I
  • Apparel and Textile Production II
  • PLTW Introduction to Engineering Design
  • PLTW Principles of Engineering
  • PLTW Aerospace Engineering
  • PLTW Computer Science and Software Engineering
  • Adobe Visual Design
  • Adobe Digital Design
  • Adobe Video Design