Chris Schulz Published

Middle School Career And Technical Training Hopes To Improve Student Engagement, Employment

Wooden classroom desks in close up with no students.Adobe Stock

Career and technical education (CTE) programs for middle schoolers are growing across the state, and educators say they’re improving academic outcomes. 

Passed in 2020, House Bill 4790 allowed career and technical education to be taught in middle school. Programs range from the “Discover Your Future” program – which introduces middle schoolers to future career opportunities across 16 career clusters – to the “Empowerment Collaborative” which focuses on content and career exploration through community-based, student-driven projects.

Clinton Burch, technical education officer for the West Virginia Department of Education, told the state Board of Education Wednesday that 56 percent of the state’s middle school population have participated in a career exploration course.

“We have a lot of stuff going on with CTE, a lot of expansion happening with your support, a lot of classes offering,” he said. “Currently you have 30,786 students that have participated in a career exploration course.”

Board President Paul Hardesty thanked Burch for his work, and expressed his frustration at hearing of students being guided away from trades and towards college.

“I’ve seen kids go to college and have no idea what they want to be and go get a political science degree, then they can’t get a job,” Hardesty said. “I am sick and tired of a counselor telling a kid in the welding program ‘You don’t want to be a welder’ when he can go out and make $40 an hour and get hired today.”

Burch highlighted the importance of showing students and their families the variety of opportunities available to them early so that they stay motivated and engaged in their education.

“It’s this idea of actually educating parents as early as elementary school on the benefits of career technical education, how it aligns very robustly with academics and by students exploring various careers at an early age, how it’s going to set them up for that success, so that you don’t have students who are just looking at college as the only option,” he said.

In response to a question from board member Debra Sullivan about the promotion of teaching as a career option, Burch highlighted the work of the new Grow Your Own program, but also stressed the need for service personnel in schools across the state.

“We did a survey a few years ago, and you’ve heard me say this before, the majority of kids, over 98 percent of them, actually did not want to move more than 50 miles from their hometown,” he said. “Who’s the largest employer in most of our hometowns? It’s our Board of Education and they’re always looking just as we are short on teachers that are always looking for service personnel.”