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Building Careers: CTE programs help prepare students for careers after school

During the month of February, local high school programs geared to helping prepare students for their careers after high school are celebrating the spotlight being on them.

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month. CTE programs are designed to help prepare high school students for careers in technical fields and trades after they graduate. Some of those students will go on to receive more training at post-secondary schools, such as the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Elizabethton. Others, will be ready to walk into a job placement immediately after crossing the stage with the skills they have earned in high school.

Dr. Melissa Loveless, the CTE Principal at Unaka High School, recently shared some of the ways the school’s programs help prepare students for the workforce.

“Through many of those programs they can learn a trade or receive a certification that, if they know they are not going on to college or even to a technical school like here at TCAT, it gives them the opportunity once they get out of school to earn reasonable pay going into a job,” Loveless said.

Years ago, much of the focus in high school was in encouraging kids to pursue a college education after graduation, but not much was offered to help prepare those students who would be entering the workforce.

Now, Loveless said the focus is on getting the students ready for college or a career. That is where CTE comes in to help prepare them by giving them a skill they can pursue as a career.

Loveless has been involved in CTE programs for 19 years, and over the years the attitude involving career technical education has changed. When she first began, Loveless said, CTE programs were often used as a filler class for students who had an open spot in their schedule and needed the credit to graduate.

“Now, they have to pick their concentrated program of study,” Loveless said. “That means they have to take at least three classes in that concentration.”

Students at Unaka High School, and transport students from the county’s other schools, can participate in a variety of CTE programs to continue their education

Loveless teaches the Business Technology program and is also the faculty sponsor for the school’s chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America.

Kayla Clawson teaches the Health Sciences program at Unaka and is the faculty adviser for the school’s chapter of the Health Occupations Students of America. Students in the Health Sciences program can earn their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) license while still in high school through the course.

Scott Johnson teaches the Collision Repair program and leads the school’s SkillsUSA team that competes against students from other schools in collision repair and automotive refinish.

Theresa Burton teaches the Human Services program at Unaka and is the adviser for the Family, Career, Community Leaders of America chapter at the school. She also teaches a WBL practicum where the students assist with various programs at Hunter Elementary School.

John Hardin teaches the Agriculture curriculum which includes the Meat Science program as well as the Drop Farm Collaborative. In the Meat Science program, the students learn butcher skills by slaughtering and processing animals into the cuts of meat consumers find at the grocery story. The Drop Farm Collaborative serves as a Supervised Agriculture Experience where students work and manage a farm raising livestock and growing crops. The farm also serves as an educational program to introduce younger students to farming. Food raised at the farm is donated to local food banks and non-profits to benefit the community.

Four of the CTE teachers at Unaka are offering Work-Based Learning (WBL) opportunities for students which allow them to earn job skills and school credit for off-campus work in their fields.

Through the school system’s transportation program, students at the county high schools may take part in CTE programs offered at other high schools. In addition to the programs offered at Unaka, the students can take pursue courses of study in welding, aviation, criminal justice, auto mechanics, computer aided drafting, and foundations of construction (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing).