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Episode 25: Exploring Your Future–Career and Technical Education

Note: The audio versions of all episodes are available on the DOE Digest webpage.


Ken: Hello and welcome to the DOE Digest, a podcast from the New Jersey Department of Education. I'm your host, Ken Bond.

The DOE Digest is a platform for information exchange in which the Department highlights the work being done by transformative educators around the state. This podcast is one of the ways that we utilize our digital platform to help strengthen teaching, leading, and learning, and increase educational equity for the 1.4 million students across New Jersey. Thank you for joining us.

February is Career and Technical Education month or CTE month. High schools around New Jersey, including county technical schools, provide students with CTE opportunities. There are a number of requirements around CTE programs of study that include size, scope, and quality, some of which you'll hear about.

But the big takeaway from this episode is the potential that CTE programs hold. We at the New Jersey Department of Education believe all educators should understand the career pathways CTE programs of study can unlock, as they work alongside students to prepare them for high school and beyond. This episode will start off with a conversation between myself, a school-to-work internship coordinator, and two of the students that he has worked with. From there we'll transition to a round table, where we talk about CTE programs of study and the multiple factors that go into creating ones that are robust and that serve students’ needs. Let's jump right in.

Mercer County Technical Schools

Dave: Hi. Good afternoon. I'm Dave Nash, school-to-work internship coordinator for Mercer County Technical Schools in Mercer County, New Jersey.

Kitty: Hi. My name is Kitty Dorfman. I'm part of the Health Science Academy. I'm in my senior year. I go to Mercer County Technical School.

Ben: my name is Benjamin Kluempen. I'm an apprentice locksmith at Hogan's Security Group. I currently am in the second year of the Electrical Construction program at Mercer County Technical School.

Ken: So first, could you tell me about your journey into career and technical education. So Dave, we'll start with you on this one.

Dave: Fantastic. So my journey into career and technical education began in 1986. I was a freshman in high school. And I was a self-proclaimed D-C-B-A student, that's a term that I made up, and it meant that I got D's and C's until my parents put a chain around my motorcycle, and then I magically turned them into A's and B's.” And it's just because I wasn't passionate about the subject matter that I was learning, and that drove my guidance counselor and I to have a conversation with my mom and dad, and I toured Mercer County Technical Schools that spring.

And, uh, it led me to entering the automotive technology program, because I loved that component. And that led to me actually engaging in participating in school-to-work internships and a co-op position at a local automotive dealership, which they in turn picked me up, quote-unquote, I was a scholarship recipient. And I went to college for free. Graduated from Mercer and was a full-time technician until I was 30.

And I had a heart to teach around 24 and it took six years to put those pieces of puzzle in place. And that led me to mercer county technical schools in the year 2000. I was in the classroom until 2010. And, uh, midway through that time I went back to school and studied career counseling and obtained certification to become a co-op CEC hazardous occupations coordinator, and received that certificate, which means I'm a certified instructor to do that on--by the Department of Education standards. And I've been doing that position—holding that position—for 10 years, and I absolutely love it

Ben: So, Ben. I was homeschooled for my whole life. And I basically had no plans for what I wanted to do until, in 2018, my mom introduced the idea of the Building Maintenance Trades program at Mercer County Technical School, which has four trades to learn. So it introduces you to: electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, and masonry. So you get to learn all four and try and find something you're interested in. So I learned that I like working with my hands, and favoriting electrical and plumbing. That program was done. I shot for the second year of electrical construction. And the summer after finishing the BMT program, got an email from Mr. Nash about a job opening at Hogan Security Group, and I've been working there for six months.

So, when I started I didn't know at all what to expect, but I've learned, really, so much generally and brand-specific for types of lock sets. And I was recently offered a formal federal—federally registered apprenticeship at Hogan. So I’m working full time

Kitty: This is Kitty. My journey into career in technical education began really in eighth grade. I really wanted a more specialized education because I've known I've wanted to be a veterinarian ever since I was little. So I was really looking around for different programs and seeing what would be more, like a smaller program, as well as a more specialized program. And I came upon the Health Science Academy in the Mercer County Technical School. And immediately I was hooked. It really felt like a family when I first, like, shadowed it. And I’ve seen that as I’ve been there. And I just love the small school atmosphere.

Ken: So, I'd like to hear from the three of you about what some benefits are that you see for students participating in an approved career and technical education program. You know, there's so many different pathways to careers, and so many different great opportunities out there, what is it about approved CTE programs that can benefit students and that are important for others to know about?

Dave: Dave Nash. So, the key benefits that are offered by any CTE program, people are passionate about their careers. And that's what makes the teachers so passionate. And that's what drives the programs, um, so each classroom is specifically engineered and created, whether it's the curriculum, the real life stories, the projects, they're meaningful and passionate.

Kitty: This is Kitty. If you know you want to be an electrician, for example. If you know you want to be a veterinarian. If you know you want to be in the health medical field, just in general. If you, like, there's so many different programs for everyone. And again, the smaller size is so good for, I believe, so many students. Like for me, for example, I get like one-on-one instruction with a lot of my teachers. If you're struggling, they'll help you out. And they're all very good at their jobs, and that's really what I love about it. And again, it feels like a family. Everyone's just so kind. And everyone's so sweet. And it's just for people who are highly motivated, and for people who really want to do well, and for people who want to succeed. And as Mr. Nash said, "create a career for themselves."

Ben: This is Ben. So for the BMT program, you really do learn skills for life. Really, it's just very satisfying to do something with your own hands. Learn the material. Know how to do it. And you feel, you know, you can respect yourself a lot more.

Ken: That’s great. That’s great.

So next, I want to get back into work-based learning experiences. You both, I understand, have had them. Benjamin and Kitty, could you tell me a little bit about some examples of the types of work-based learning experiences that you’ve had, and not just kind of where you've worked, but what  an example of something that you've actually done in that work-based experience that has prepared you for the career path that you are planning to take?

Ben: Sure. This is Ben. What’s really valuable is learning how to talk to clients and act professionally, but still friendly. And dealing with small issues on your own. And then knowing how and when to ask for help from your seniors is quite valuable, as well.

So right now I’m working on a big job, and we had an issue where the guy installing all of the locks in this building—the efficiency of his work is going down because of the way that the locks were given [to] them, were prepared for the. So I was able to call him up and ask what the problem was, know actually what it was, and pinpoint how to fix that problem.

Kitty: When I was in my sophomore year, I went down to my grandparents' place in South Carolina, and I shadowed at a vet. And then I really loved it there, and I really wanted to continue shadowing. So, in my junior year I had to do an internship. And I was like, "well, of course I'm gonna do the vet."

So I went to the Edinburg Animal Hospital, which is literally five minutes up the road from my school, which was a perfect fit. I love everybody there and I was really able to learn the practicals of the veterinary career path. One of the most interesting stories is when a dog came in after having eaten about 140 Tylenol. And so the dog came in. It was an emergency, obviously. And it was all hands on deck, pretty much, because it was...the dog had just eaten 140 or so Tylenol. So I was the one having to count the bottle, of course, like, and figure out how much the dog exactly ate. And then this is actually, like, super interesting that I found out, was that you actually put a pill in the dog's eye that will make them throw up. And then after the dog throws up, you have to give them a bunch of activated charcoal.

So I was the one having to hold the dog as they were giving, like, so much activated charcoal. And so then, of course, the activated charcoal is--it's charcoal, it's black. It got all over me, all over my jacket. I had to, like, to wash it, like, three times to get all of it out. It helped me learn, and I was really hands-on. It was, like, a really interesting case. And that just...that's what I love about the veterinary career, is it's something new every day. It's something interesting. And I never would have been able to experience that without HSA, and without this internship. So I just thought that was really cool.

Ken: And it was a happy ending for the Husky, I hope?

Kitty: Yes. She's all good. She's fine.

Ken: [laughing] Good. Great. Great.

And Dave, how about for you? Can you give an example of maybe, uh, another one of your students?

Dave: Uh, yeah. I have two scenarios. And I hope it reaches two very distinct types of students that come to our program.

The first one is very cut and dry. We had an amazing student last year who went to our Carpentry program, which is excellent. He obtained the position—a co-op position—his senior year with a builder in Hopewell. And they thrived. They did additions, new construction, bathrooms, everything under the sun from a carpentry level. And, uh, he was passionate about it. And he decided that he was going to take classes at the community college and continue to work part-time after graduation.

During that time, this fall, I received a lead. And due to this student's drive and passion and proficiency displayed at the internship, senior year, I emailed the, um, description to him, as well as had it posted on our job board for the district. And, uh, he went through a very rigorous interviewing process and I'm pleased to report that he's now working there, as a career. Still taking college classes. Still immersed in the field that he loves. But he's got an incredible career, that's a...a lot of people would strive to obtain in their 20s or 30s, this young man obtained it when he was 18-19 years old. So that's scenario number one, which is like, "okay very a plus b equals c."

Uh, another example, I will tell you very we see this more often than a lot of people know, is a student who was in our auto-collision program. He wasn't really passionate about the actual program. He loved the program. He loved doing the work, but he didn't think he wanted to do that as a career, which again is a blessing. So, when he was in there, he expressed that to the teacher and I. And I was able to correlate a, uh, opportunity at a company. And they are a worldwide leader in all types of pumps. And he interviewed and they cycled him through what I call a "round robin" or a "hummingbird opportunity" on co-op. And he fell in love with being a CNC programmer and general machinist. He graduated our auto-collision program. He worked co-op as a machinist. And he's now 23 years old, buying his first house, a graduate from a federally registered apprenticeship program. And he attended our adult evening school. And he's a machinist and CNC programmer and operator. All from a kid that signed up to an auto-collision program, who really didn't know what he wanted. And through the relationships that we have as a CTE school, we were able to correlate these really unique types of positions.

Go visit your CTE school. If you're a classroom instructor and you haven't been to one, please just  go to one. Go to their website take a tour. I'd also like to offer up that if you if you want to hear more about Mercer County Technical Schools, if you're in the Mercer County area, be sure to check out our podcast "The MCTS Experience.”

Go visit your CTE school. If you're a classroom instructor and you haven't been to one, please just  go to one. Go to their website take a tour. I'd also like to offer up that if you if you want to hear more about Mercer County Technical Schools, if you're in the Mercer County area, be sure to check out our podcast "The MCTS Experience." In addition, I have a six-part video series on YouTube called "Exploring Your Career Pathways with Mr. Nash."  And it's just a video series that was based off of hundreds of conversations I've had with students in all different types of CTE education, whether it be white collar, blue collar, entrepreneurial, whatever the subject matter is, is it pertains to guys and girls unlocking their future and figuring out how to set that compass heading for their career, and their 18 to 24 years post high school.

I mean, the power of YouTube and the informative videos they're putting out by all of the districts, can really get a feel of what's going on. But the one you'd want to do is go to an open house, or talk to kids that go to it.

Kitty: May I speak?

Ken: Of course! Please.

Kitty: Alright. This is Kitty. 

So I, this is just something personally about myself. I actually have an IEP, which means I have a learning disability. And when I was first, like, applying to these schools and wanting to go to these schools, people would tell me that I wasn't smart enough, or I wasn't, like, good enough to go to these schools, because I have an IEP. Or other people I know had 504s, which is totally not true at all. And I think we really need to dispel that myth that people with 504s or IEPs can't necessarily be smart, and can't necessarily do well in these kinds of schools. And's just something that's really important to me, because people were discouraging me from going, because they didn't think that I would be able to succeed. And not to toot my own horn, but I have straight A's. So, it's just not true at all. And they're very inclusive, to all kinds of people and all kinds of programs, and they will completely honor everything in your IEPs and 504s. And I just think that was something that is really important to be said for students who are considering going to these schools with those type of programs.

Ken: Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that. And thank you for, you know, being so transparent and inspirational for a lot of students who I'm sure are in the same situation and thinking about what opportunities that, uh, CTE and Career and Technical Education can have for them. So thank you.

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Transition to Next Section

Ken: The next conversation I have is a round table with CTE educators from around the state. The conversation includes how schools and districts can think about building new programs of study for students to respond to their needs in the workforce, as well as the many success stories that they've seen in their schools.

Roundtable Discussion

Ken: The next conversation I have is a round table with CTE educators from around the state. The conversation includes how schools and districts can think about building new programs of study for students to respond to their needs in the workforce, as well as the many success stories that they've seen in their schools.

Shari: Hi everyone. This is Shari Castelli. I’m from the Morris County Vocational School District. I’m the Assistant Superintendent there. We are located in Denville, Morris County.

Keely: I’m Keely DiTizio. I am an Agriculture teacher at Salem County Vocational Technical School, which is in Salem County, New Jersey.

Gary: My name is Gary MacDonald, Curriculum Director for Ocean County Vocational Technical School located in Ocean County, New Jersey.

Joe: Hi. I’m Joe Castellucci. I’m the Superintendent at Lower Cape May Regional School District in Cape May County, New Jersey, all the way down in Cape May.

Ken: So, I just wanted to ask about the process for you, as a school or district, to create a Career and Technical Education program, or program of study, and the factors that you consider when you're creating a CTE program.

Shari: So, this is Shari. And the way we go about starting new Career and Technical Education programs is first to look at what the labor demand is in our area and try to project into the future what an in-demand career area would be. We also look at what kind of partners we can get to support the program—business and industry folks. We also research dual-credit options. We see what colleges and universities would offer credit for the program. We look at opportunities for our students to participate in Career and Technical student organizations and competitions. And finally, we look at what I like to call the sexiness of the program. So that would be whether or not students would find programs attractive and want to apply to be in the program.

Joe: This is Joe. We do we consider all the factors that Shari  just talked about, those are obviously important factors, but one of the other things we look at is what is practical for our school district. So one of the factors we look at is "do we have qualified teachers in-house that would be able to teach in that program?" Uh, the other thing is we do, is we look at some of our elective programs and what are some of the more popular programs, which maybe with a little more, uh, ratcheting up of rigor, we could turn into CTE programs, maybe add some other components to it. And then we also work...try to work with our local community businesses and industry partners, as well as our colleges, to see what kind of opportunities they can help us with to get these programs to the program of study level.

So, there's a couple factors. One is there has to be a sequence of three interconnected courses. So, there's an intro level, and then there's the next level, and then there's typically advanced level, although some of our programs have as many as four courses. The other thing is that you must have some type of industry standard credential or a post-secondary credit opportunity. And then the final thing is some type of work-based experience, what we call a structured learning experience where students would hopefully go out into the field and either intern or job shadow, and find some opportunities or an apprenticeship. Find some opportunities to get real-world experience. And for most of our programs we do that in the senior year.

Keely: This is Keely DiTizio. I agree with many of the others in terms of how programs are selected and, you know, evaluated and things. As an agriculture teacher, I had a unique experience where I took the agriculture program that existed, and we did a lot of the things that Mr., um, Castellucci just mentioned. And so it has really improved the program from what it was nine years ago. We articulated with our local community college, which is Salem Community College. Our students that are enrolled in the Academy of Agricultural Sciences are eligible for up to 17 dual-credit courses within the school day, in high school. And then they can also opt to take after school classes at the college. And I have had to date, I think, about eight students who have graduated from my program with an Associate's Degree before their graduation at the high school, which is really exciting. We actually have a complete program of study with four courses, which is amazing. And then we also have articulations with Rutgers University, Delaware Valley University, and SUNY Cobleskill.

Gary: I’ll share. Yeah. I mean, we really take on a lot of what was discussed already. But to build upon it, we really put a lot of emphasis on building that advisory committee, engaging industry, because they also help with the spreading of the word, and the value of the program, the placements afterwards. We involve labor organizations,  industry associations, government agencies. We work closely with local labor unions. We sit on various local Chamber of Commerces throughout the county. And, um, you know, when we...when there's an idea or something is brought to our attention, we really engage all of our stakeholders to make sure that it's going to be viable. And then when we commit to something, we include all them on the information process to let them know that these programs are up and coming, and available to the students in Ocean County.

Ken: That’s excellent.

Kari: Um, Ken.

Ken: Go ahead. Yep.

Shari: This is Shari. I just wanted to add one more thing. Sometimes opportunities will arise, and it's important to take advantage of them if you want your students to benefit. So, for example, Intel has created a new artificial intelligence workforce development program that they're mostly launching with community colleges. But my community college wanted our high school district to be involved in the program. So now we're going to be able to offer this artificial intelligence program developed by Intel to high school students where they'll be able to earn industry credentials and earn college credit. So sometimes you might not generate the idea for the program, but a program will come to you. And it's important to seize the opportunity.

Ken: What are some examples of students and/or teacher achievements that have come from having Career and Technical programs in your district? So what are some things that you've seen students and teachers do, whether that be collaboratively or individually, that wouldn't have been possible without the structure of a CTE program of study?

Joe: This is Joe again. I think one of the things we're very proud of is the structure of our schedule allows many of our students who pursue a CTE pathway, to actually pursue several. Either to dabble in a course here and there, or even to become a complete, or in multiple programs. We've had students graduate our school, some pretty ambitious students graduate, with maybe as completers in three programs. And if you think about that, in some cases that's very, very logical. For example, we have students that take Law Enforcement in Police Science who have some really good math and science ability. And we might steer them into engineering, or vice versa. An engineer and say, "look, you should look into law enforcement because there are a lot of jobs now in law enforcement that need computer scientists or engineers, such as, you, know cyber security and the like." So we're very proud of that. And then of course, there's always the stories of when the kids come back and say, "you know, I wasn't serious about school until I got into that program. Then I wanted to pursue that." Maybe that's not the career they chose, but that was the thing that lit them up about school, that they made those connections and, you know, it steered them in a direction they never thought they were going to go.

Shari: So, this is Shari. We had a culinary student who was very, very passionate about Culinary Arts. And he competed on “Teen Chopped” and did not do very well. He was out in the first round. But he practiced his skills, and when he was a senior he went on Rachael Ray and competed in the “Cook Your Way to Culinary School” program. And he won. And he won a scholarship. And I caught up with him a couple years later, and he was interning at a Michelin Star restaurant in New York City.

And we had another student, a girl in our Computer and Information Sciences program, who competed first in a hackathon. And in the hackathon—which we sponsor at least one every year—she started an app designed for hearing impaired people. She went on to develop that app, and won the Congressional App Challenge.

So those are a couple of success stories. But I am equally proud of my nephew who went through our Carpentry program. He only has two fingers on his right hand, and overcame that challenge. Entered the Carpenters Union." And at 24 years old was making six figures as a union carpenter.

So those are just a few success stories.

Keely: Uh, this is Keely DiTizio. And I just really am a huge advocate of Career and Technical Education. I had gone into a Career and Technical high school, stumbled into the ag. program. Didn't have any plans to go into agriculture. And the way that Career and Technical education is structured, it just works. It just really works. [laughing]

So I was introduced to a Career and Technical student organization, a CTSO, for agriculture. It's the FFA. But there's also SkillsUSA, or HOSA, you know, FBLA. You know. There's all these acronyms, all the student organizations. And what's really great about the Career and Technical education is, not only are you getting the knowledge in terms of just classroom knowledge, you know, the book work that you need for whatever profession that you're studying for, but you're also getting a leadership component. Um, and then on top of that, in an agriculture program, we have a structured learning experience that we as agriculture teachers call a supervised agricultural experience program. And that is a requirement for every student enrolled in the program.

So it was through my work at Cape May Tech that I realized I did have a strong passion for this profession, or for this career. And then that, you know, [laughing] brought me to my very own career as well, where I'm still, you know, instructing my students with a three-circle model, where we learn about agriculture, which is just the classroom instruction, the content. And, you know, we have that leadership component with the CTSO. And, I mean, I could go on and on. I won't, but I could go on and on about the successes that my own students have had in the organization beyond just high school.

Gary: I’ll share. I think that, like, the “aha” moments for the kids which stands out for me, like maybe the student who in a traditional math classroom or something like that, they just aren’t getting the concepts. And then they get back—they get into the Building Construction or HVAC classroom, the welding classroom, and they’re able to really excel in that environment. And they’re connect[ing] the need for the geometry and the mathematical skills.

And again, a lot of our programs  put students on an advanced pathway to a career. So they're knocking off a year of their apprenticeship, towards a recognized apprentice program. They're earning college credit towards those two or four-year skills.  They're participating in community service projects. You know one of our programs, new home construction, they build a house for Habitat for Humanity. Our trades programs  participate in roughing in the electrical. So basically OCTVS, and with the partnership with Habitat, builds a house from the ground up, and for a family in the county. And just seeing the students' pride in that, and their confidence grow through that process. That they can make it in the field. And this is what they want to do.

The competitions, you know. Having students go through skills. Different research competitions. And really allowing them to stand out and shine in what they have a passion to do. And that's  what really stands out to me for Career and Technical education.

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KenThank you for engaging with the topic of CTE education through listening to this episode. Please join us for the #NJEDPartner's Twitter chat at 8:30 pm on February 16, 2021. We'll be discussing CTE and its implications for you, wherever you find yourself as an educator. I'd like to thank Elizabeth Thomas who transcribes these episodes so that they're accessible for all. And I'd like to also thank the members of the Office of Career Readiness, as well as the guests on this podcast for making this episode possible.

We look forward to continuing to connect and engage with you about educating the 1.4 million students around the state and hope to talk to you on the #NJEdPartners third Tuesday Twitter chat.

You can subscribe to the podcast channel for DOE Digest through your iPhone in the Apple Podcast app, or wherever else you listen to podcasts, so that you can get new episodes when they are released. Also, please leave us a review through the Apple Podcast app on your iPhone; it is the best way to help new listeners find us.

Neither the New Jersey Department of Education, nor its officers, employees or agents, specifically endorse, recommend, or favor views expressed by those interviewed discussion of resources are not endorsements.

Thanks so much for listening.

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