By Paula Lazor
Ever since middle school, Chloe Pilkerton wanted to become a veterinarian. Thanks to the animal science program at the Arlington Career Center, she was able to get a head start on her dream. In addition to her textbook studies about the anatomy and physiology of animals, she and her classmates had the unique experience of handling, feeding, and observing the behavior of up to 200 species all under one roof.
“Hands-on learning can’t be learned in a textbook,” Pilkerton noted. Nor was it limited to inside the animal science lab. Arlington students have participated in internships at local animal hospitals, nature centers, and the bird house at the National Zoo.
Arlington Public Schools (APS) has laid a firm foundation in career and technical education (CTE), offering more than 20 high school CTE programs at the Career Center. The question is what must APS do now to ensure even more students are well-prepared for post-secondary education or to enter the workforce directly from high school — with the right skills that are useful immediately in the jobs of tomorrow?
There is a huge skills gap in the United States. A recent report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce and JPMorgan Chase found an estimated 30 million jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. This supports the need for more workforce training in high school. These jobs are available in skilled services industries such as health care, education, finance, leisure and hospitality.
To further students’ skills for tomorrow’s jobs, Arlington could focus on three areas:
First, we could boost our valuable work-based learning (WBL) internships, which are performed in partnership with local businesses and organizations. The Career Center’s auto technology program, for example, long ago established successful partnerships with local dealerships. Several auto tech and collision repair students participate in paid internships with dealers every summer.
Through Career Center partnerships with local hospitals, emergency medical technician students participate in clinical rotations visiting patients, ambulance ride-alongs, and emergency room visits. And the early childhood education program partners with the Career Center’s infant care center and preschool program and will provide field experience for students at the new Montessori Public School of Arlington. APS has made good headway in WBL internships and can do more.
Second, make CTE courses accessible to more high school students. Some students cannot take CTE courses at the Career Center because they conflict with the class schedule at their home school. To remove this obstacle, APS could better publicize a school policy provision that permits students to earn high school and college credits simultaneously at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). In some instances, taking dual enrollment courses on the NOVA campus could free up a student’s schedule to take the desired CTE course at the Career Center.
APS should also ensure CTE class availability so that every student who wants to enroll can do so, despite challenges posed by school construction projects affecting capacity at the Career Center, a situation that arose earlier this year.
Third, NOVA and Amazon Web Services recently partnered to establish an apprenticeship program to train military veterans to be Associate Cloud Consultants. It would be a wise move for APS to explore opening the Amazon-NOVA apprenticeship program to high school students who want to pursue advanced training in cloud support.
Having real-world, work-based experiences gives students a chance to test-drive a potential career and, in the process, determine what might or might not be the right fit. Too often, the CTE path is viewed as an either-or choice when, in fact, career and technical education prepares students to be ready for both, and to be ready to ensure their financial footing as young adults.
Paula Lazor is the author of Beyond the Box: How Hands-on Learning Can Transform a Child and Reform Our Schools. She is the host and producer of “Education Innovations” on WERA 96.7 FM and has been a parent advocate for nearly 20 years. Paula and her husband have been Arlington residents since 1981 and love walking and biking along the W&OD Trail. They have two adult children who have benefited from an APS education.