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GPS students unlocking their career passions with the help of CTE courses

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Highland High students watch a cooking demonstration in their classroom.The number of high school students across the country taking Career & Technical Education (CTE) courses is rapidly growing from year to year. According to U.S. News & World Report, roughly 8.3 million high school students nationwide participated in CTE courses from the years 2020 to 2021. As more students enroll in these programs, the number of CTE courses available to them is expanding.  

"It's been constantly evolving and changing from within to meet the needs of the students, what they are doing and their desires," said Doug Daley, the director of Career & Technical Education for Gilbert Public Schools. 

GPS offers CTE courses at each of our five comprehensive high school campuses. There are 20 CTE pathways that students can explore. The areas of occupational interest include agriscience, business management, culinary arts, film and TV, and stagecraft. Through the courses, students gain new skills and consider their professional and academic options beyond high school. Not only do students connect with the experienced educators who teach these courses, but they also get to meet industry professionals throughout the programs.

“We just try to get them out and see different options in the community,” said Mary Brightman, “We do field trips. We go to Scottsdale Community College and check out the culinary program there.”

Brightman is the culinary arts instructor at Highland High School, where she has taught for 23 years. Students in her program build their culinary skills, learn about career opportunities, have the chance to receive a nationally-recognized industry certification, and also get the chance to practice and showcase their skills at community events. 

 “A ton of my students have gone on to work in the industry. A handful of them have gone on to culinary school, so there is definitely a wide range,” Brightman said, “Those skills translate across the board from cooking at home to working at some fancy restaurant.”

Federal data shows that high school students who get at least two credits in a CTE career pathway have about a 95-percent chance of graduating, which is roughly 10-percent higher than the national average. CTE students also score significantly higher on the ACT and go on to have well-paying jobs. These are some of the many reasons why CTE programs are considered critical in education, because they are working to meet the needs of the workforce.

“I feel like we have a major shortage of workers in our CTE fields,” said Mary Brightman, “We need people who are going to do these jobs. We need skilled workers.”

A GPS stagecraft student works with construction equipment to build a stage set.Jenell Riordan teaches stagecraft, also known as technical theatre, at Desert Ridge High School. The program prepares students for technical and management careers in the performing arts and entertainment industries. In her program, Riordan ensures her students learn a variety of skills including lighting, audio/visual, sound, staging, set construction and costuming.

“They are striking for everything that happens in our auditorium. It could be for band, choir, orchestra, or Student Council,” she said. 

Riordan believes teaching the basics is key to ensuring her students get entry-level jobs in the future. It also widens their perspective on what the industry has to offer. Stagecraft careers are available in the performing arts for theatre and concert productions as well as in the corporate sector for events such as meetings and conferences. 

“I love what my kids do, and I love it when they understand the scope of what they do. Production goes beyond theatrical production,” she said.

As students build their skill sets, they are learning the importance of collaboration, teamwork, adaptability, preparation, and applying what they’ve learned. They are finding out more about where their interests lie and what is worth pursuing in college or career school. In some cases, they are already getting a head start by earning college credit or industry certifications while in high school. A move that can be more cost efficient for families.

“Many CTE classes have the opportunity for dual enrollment or college credit, because they are very specific and aligned with the skills that are needed in the workforce today,” Daley said.

CTE programs offer a nice reprieve for students from their core classes. There are fewer lectures and more hands-on activities to stimulate their mind and creativity.

"That hands-on experience that they get, and it doesn't matter what program you're in, the hands-on experience is so critical. It's so much cooler to go and do stuff," Riordan said, “My students prefer to go and do it.”

Learn more about the Career & Technical Education programs offered at Gilbert Public Schools by visiting the CTE section of our website!

Written by Kailey Latham