Education

Olympia School Board looks at career training programs

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OLYMPIA –– The Olympia School Board discussed yesterday their district-wide plan for Career and Technical Education (CTE) course offerings. The Olympia School District offers CTE programs to all students in the seventh to twelfth grade, with an emphasis placed on accessibility and a wide spectrum of options.

The process for getting courses listed on a school’s catalogue is more complicated than one might think, requiring extensive grant funding, personnel allocation and demonstrated student interest.

These classes are intended to provide students with opportunities to learn skills that are specific to certain trades or areas of study that general education doesn’t necessarily cover, such as robotics, graphic communications, or technology arts. They help prepare students for two-year programs in the university, allow students to earn industry-based certificates, and provide an additional enriching experience for those going on to four-year colleges.

CTE programs can even lead to job shadowing, internships and apprenticeships, and are sometimes available in conjunction with dual credit programs.

According to data presented by Director of College & Career Readiness Pat Cusack, 72 percent of students in grades 7-12 in the Olympia School District are involved in at least one CTE course, meaning that most students are affected by the changes the board decides to implement. The board updates its five-year plan of action regularly to account for course demand and any funding complications that may occur along the way.

Olympia places emphasis on the qualifications of its instructors.

“Every CTE teacher has a special certification … based on their industry expertise in the content area in which they’re teaching,” explained Cusack, “ensuring that the lessons and activities going on in our programs are under qualified supervision.”

Capital High School will offer upwards of 30 CTE classes, from those in engineering like robotics, welding, woods technology, and precision manufacturing to those in the arts, such as drawing and painting, game design, journalism, stagecraft, and film cinematography. A diverse dose of courses in leadership and the health sciences will round out the selection.

Cusack expressed interest in expanding the “health sciences” programs in the coming years.

“If you take the health care industry, [that is] a very broad, very large program area. We basically have our health program in the CTE program, and we also have our sports medicine program,” explained Cusack. “I would like to expand that into as many different aspects of the health sciences industry as possible.”

Olympia High School will offer upwards of 20 CTE courses, ranging from the visual arts and communications to marketing, robotics, natural resources and the science of agriculture, personal finance, and the trio of sports medicine courses. According to Cusack, the school plans on offering theatre arts as well.

Avanti High School is currently set for eight options: Career choices, commercial art, natural resources, plant biology, stagecraft, sustainable agriculture, urban agriculture, and work site learning.

“Our programs sell themselves,” said Cusack. “There are a lot of different courses available at our schools.”

Besides classroom instruction, the district includes learning opportunities that supplement the more traditional types of in-class lessons. It focuses on three main areas of career and college readiness, extending beyond classroom instruction and theory to shop and lab classes that require hands-on learning.

“We do an extensive amount of extended learning through community service projects,” said Cusack.

In keeping up with the times, the district must implement standards related to the growing prominence of technology in daily life, which requires technological, digital, and informational literacy.

“Twenty-first century skill standards are required to incorporate into all of our CTE programs,” explained Cusack.

When it comes to the upcoming fall semester, the school board is hopeful for a model that allows for at least some in-person schooling.

“We’re planning on having a hybrid model if we’re allowed to do that,” explained Cusack, noting that “there’s still a lot to learn and a lot of things we can do to improve.” 

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