Career and Technical Programs alive and well at North Valley
Six female students in welding class
GRAFTON –If you remember the 1980’s auto advertising campaign slogan, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” then you may also have an outdated understanding of what is involved in today’s career and technical education (CTE) programs.
“The perception of vocational education programs of the past was that only the students who had difficulty in traditional academic settings were placed in those classes. A common misconception was that CTE programs were only designed for students who were not going to college or would not be as successful as their college-bound peers,” said Mark Wagner, Director of North Valley Career and Technology Center (NVCTC) in Grafton.
Now the students who attend CTE classes come from the entire student body. They typically score well above all enrolled students in traditional academic topics including reading and math. Their high school graduation rates also exceed those of the entire student body.
Wagner said the purpose of CTE is to allow students to explore their career options while gaining experience in the field, to learn both employability and technical skills, and to learn real-world applications of academic subjects. “In many cases, these students earn industry-recognized certifications before graduating from high school,” said Wagner. “But most importantly, CTE prepares students for both the workplace and post-secondary educational opportunities.”
According to 2012 ND assessment data, students completing two or more credits in a single CTE program area exceeded all enrolled students by 8 to 11% in reading and math achievement scores and high school graduation rates. That isn’t hard to understand when considering the need for students in welding, auto technology, construction, marketing and modern business technologies to be able to read and understand complex technical drawings, wiring diagrams, computer programs and schematics.
Current course offerings available to students at NVCTC include Ag Education, Auto Technology, Construction Technology and Drafting, Health Careers, Marketing Education, Modern Business Technology, and Welding, Machine Tool Technology & Emerging Technologies. In all the courses, students have the opportunity to try out “real world” work tasks and achieve excellence in traditional educational goals.
In February 2011, the Harvard School of Education published a report, entitled Pathways to Prosperity, that demonstrated why schools need to promote multiple pathways to success, with increased work-based learning for students, greater engagement of employers in our schools, and more internships, apprenticeships and career guidance to help students visualize what their future can be.
“This is exactly what CTE can do for these students,” according to Wagner. “There is no disputing the fact that postsecondary education is beneficial for just about every student, regardless of his or her chosen career path. But perhaps a four-year college degree is not the best choice for everyone.”
“Students need to understand that another option may be pursuing an associate degree while working in the field to gain necessary experience. When a student has a career in mind, the math, reading and writing courses have even more of a purpose. The result is greater motivation and a passion for learning that will be a passport to a better future,” said Wagner.
Bryan Stastny, welding instructor at NVCTC, said he would like to see all students take the full range of career and technology courses that are available. “The students that take all of our courses and sections will end up with a very well-rounded set of skills and an excellent idea of what they want in a career, “ said Stastny. “Colleges and industry like to see well-prepared students and ours are ready for any challenge after high school.”
Former students and industry representatives are welcome in Stastny’s class, where they visit with students about what is important on the job site and to the company in terms of attention to detail, cleanliness, safety, and an individual’s work ethic. One of Stastny’s current students is working at Diverse Energy Systems in Grafton in a cooperative education arrangement.
Stastny takes pride in the number of female students in his classes. “I have six females out of 45 in my classes,” said Stastny. “I feel strongly that our female students must get exposed to non-traditional careers and those in my welding class demonstrate great welding attributes, such as attention to detail and great eye-hand coordination.”
Welding students in Stastny’s classes are exposed to knowledge in the various welding processes including oxy-fuel welding and cutting, shielded metal arc welding (stick), gas metal arc weld and flux core arc weld (wire feed), gas tungsten arc welding (TIG), plasma arc cutting, and air arc gouging.
General shop safety and the theory of each welding process is covered, along with blueprint reading, welding symbols, welding joints and positions, and the chemical properties of metals. Students completing this course are eligible to test for A.W. S. Entry Level Weld Certification. Students may also articulate credits earned to NDState College of Science, and Northland Community and Technical College welding programs.
At NVCTC, Wagner said he and his staff work hard to help students achieve 21st century career and technical skills. In order to achieve this, they must work with school counselors to support the provision of career skills training and assessments, beginning in middle school. They also work hard to inform area school boards of the skills and education provided by the NVCTC teaching staff and the value they carry for their students.
A student project currently underway is helping the center’s staff achieve this goal. Students in the video editing class are shooting and editing a “virtual” tour of the center that will be made available online. Students, teachers and parents can view the tour online to learn about the learning activities, instruction and well-equipped labs that are available at the center. Informing parents and educational leaders of the hard data regarding the higher proficiency levels achieved by students participating in CTE courses can help to advance students’ access to the broad-based goals of the expanded career and technical education programs.