A HEAD START – Students in the Dental program at Arsenal Technical High School’s Career Technology Center (CTC) learn to do everything from routine checkups to cleanings. The program is just one aspect of a growing initiative at IPS to increase Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings for high school students to better prepare them for the district’s 3Es – enrollment in college, enlistment into the military or employment at a livable wage upon graduation.
When Indianapolis Public Schools created college and career options in several of its high schools for the 2018-19 school year, it joined a national educational trend dedicated to preparing students for high-wage, high-demand jobs through Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum and programs.
The district eliminated neighborhood boundaries for high school students, allowing them the freedom to choose the school that best fits their academic needs and career goals — regardless of where they live.
Today, several IPS high schools offer specialized curricula via CTE or technical education pathways designed to help students find a career-based concentration to study — from health sciences to construction, engineering, business and finance, and information technology.
Mee Hee Smith, Career Academy coordinator at Crispus Attucks High School, said students are seeing great gains because of the new CTE pathway options.
“CTE is helping students in many ways,” said Smith. “There is evidence that students who are in a CTE pathway during their high school career have increased graduation rates. CTE pathways also allow students to earn high school credits, college credits, and industry credentials.”
While there is a perception that career and technical coursework only attracts students uninterested in attending college, Smith said nothing could be further from the truth.
“CTE is for all students who have an interest to be successful in their future,” Smith added.
Proof is provided through the variety of CTE programming offered at the high school level.
Arsenal Technical High School offers Math & Science Academy, Law & Public Policy, and New Tech (a project-based high school program) along with:
- Construction Engineering & Design Academy, featuring pathways in architecture and design; construction trades; engineering; and mechanical, electrical and plumbing.
- Career Technology Center, where students can earn dual credit and industry recognized certifications in more than 10 pathway programs — from Animal Science to Automotive, Dental, Culinary Arts and Cosmetology.
Crispus Attucks High School offers:
- Health Sciences Academy, including pathways in biomedical sciences, health informatics, nursing and physical therapy.
- Teaching, Learning & Leading Academy focuses on pathways in teaching professions and early childhood education.
George Washington High School offers:
- Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering & Logistics Academy.
- Information Technology Academy, featuring pathways in software development, informatics and IT support.
- Business & Finance Academy, with pathways in banking and finance, marketing, business operations and entrepreneurship.
These pathways include a defined sequence of courses, which, depending on the track, have built-in potential for an industry-recognized certification, dual high school/college credit, or opportunities to participate in work-based learning experiences.
“It promotes intentional course-taking by students,” said Jennifer Berry, IPS’ Career Technical Education pathway director. “Students are empowered to take courses based on their choices and their interests, and what motivates them, rather than meandering through these classes and having just a hodgepodge of credits that really don’t mean anything. (This route) has value in the real world.”
The CTE programming offered at IPS high schools, along with traditional academic course work, allows IPS to focus on the district’s 3Es — preparing students for enrollment in college, enlistment in the military or employment at a livable wage upon graduation.
By informing students about these three options, and placing equal emphasis on each, Berry hopes students gain a better understanding of what their place in the community and the job market is, boosting enthusiasm about their futures.
“Of course, we want to help students obtain credentials and degrees, but we also realize that isn’t for everyone,” said Berry about the traditional high-school-to-college path. “Our JROTC program works side by side with our military partners in helping ensure our students, from the get-go, understand the careers that exist in the military, and that once they become civilians, their military training helps qualify them for careers there.”
Work-based opportunities are possible as well, thanks to partnerships with the local business community — many of which offer opportunities for students to earn credits and secure paid internships, much like a work-study position at the college level.
“That’s really such a great thing,” said Berry. “If a student is on a nursing track, they can actually get their Certified Nursing Assistant license and work as a CNA during their senior year as part of a capstone course.”
Additionally, there has been a big push from business and industry leaders to help schools create pathway systems aligned to the local economy and engage employers to help build partnerships between the school and the community.
Berry said the decision to switch to the CTE model was data-driven, since studies show that students who use this type of academic model have a higher rate of graduation, require less remediation at the college level, and are more likely to persist in earning a postsecondary degree or a credential.
“In the end, it’s certainly going to benefit the students, and it’s going to benefit the community,” she said. “We want the students and families to realize they have choice. I think it kind of gives them control over where students can attend high school, and they can be involved with the different pathways offered. They feel like they have more of an informed choice in their future as well.”