“This is getting ready to be our busy season,” said Sara Lockett, director of technical and career education for Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS).
It’s difficult to imagine a time of the year when Lockett and her career and technical education (CTE) administrators and teachers are not busy. With two specialty centers, dozens of CTE classes, thousands of industry credentials awarded, various CTE student organizations and multiple citywide special events, there is an abundance of activity year-round.
The recognition of Career and Technical Education Month in February gives VBCPS another reason to highlight the achievements of its CTE program as well as promote the related academic offerings and career pathways available to students.
“Students fill 35,186 seats in CTE classrooms in Virginia Beach, which is an increase from last school year,” said Lockett.
“Electives are not just seen as something to fill your schedule,” she added. “Kids are really targeting classes that will help them get into college and help them decide on a career.”
VBCPS offers secondary students a wide range of CTE classes – from computer skills to teen living in middle school and accounting to modeling and simulation in high schools.
Even elementary schools are giving students an opportunity to show their career aspirations during spirit weeks.
“We could talk to you for three days about what’s going on,” Lockett said.
Business management. Financial management. Culinary arts. Engineering design. Fashion marketing. Construction technology. Dental assisting. Practical nursing. Electronics and robotics. Network administration and cybersecurity. Carpentry. Cosmetology. Photography. Hospitality. Early childhood education. Architectural drawing. Plumbing. Welding.
With 16 career clusters and 79 unique career pathways, there is something for every interest.
And every student, Lockett noted, now has to earn at least one CTE credential to receive a standard diploma for graduation per state regulation.
“The idea is to have kids prepared to go into the workforce,” she said.
Preparing students to go into the workforce is what the Virginia Beach Technical and Career Education Center (Tech Center) has been doing since 1972. It offers 22 credentialed technical programs to VBCPS high school juniors and seniors.
“Our students learn and practice marketable technical skills in our classrooms and labs, earn industry-recognized credentials and have opportunities to translate that knowledge to real-world situations through on- and off-campus learning experiences, job-shadowing and internships,” said David Swanger, director of the Tech Center.
Many program completers are staying in or returning to Virginia Beach to use their skills in the local job market. Swanger regularly sees former students at work in the community whether he’s at a medical appointment and sees a student-turned-nurse or encounters business owners or foremen who completed programs at the Tech Center.
“No matter a student’s plan, completing a Tech Center program will benefit students for a lifetime,” he said. “Some students attend the center just because they have an interest in a particular field while others know exactly which career or educational path they intend to pursue.”
Maggie DeMarco knew culinary arts was her passion. The 2015 graduate of Princess Anne High School and completer of the Tech Center’s culinary arts program earned a full scholarship to the Culinary Arts Institute of America. She recently contacted Tech Center staff to tell them about and share a photo of her amazing externship at the restaurant Bouchon in Napa Valley, California, owned by the award-winning chef Thomas Keller.
Students at the Advanced Technology Center (ATC), another one of the division’s specialty centers, are also on the path to success in various career fields. High school juniors and seniors take courses in one of three academic strands: Information Technology (IT) and Computer Sciences; Digital Design and Marketing; and Architecture, Engineering and Manufacturing.
Network administration and cybersecurity is one course available to ATC students.
“Cybersecurity was on our radar long before it was on everyone else’s this summer,” said Lockett. “Virginia has 34,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs and some don’t require a college degree. We’re looking at pathways to get our kids into those jobs.”
Lockett also boasts of the recent accomplishment of Jake Rasmussen, ATC student and Cox High School junior, who earned a perfect score of 240 on the Certified SolidWorks Associate (CSWA) examination. The certification is a three-hour test designed for those working in the industry with several years of job experience.
“It’s a first for VBCPS and our programs,” said Lockett. “We’ve never had a kid get 100 percent. It’s like a perfect score on the ACT. That’s what this was for us.”
Students are also excelling in their co-curricular CTE student organizations such as Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), DECA, SkillsUSA and Educators Rising. Lockett said hundreds of VBCPS students qualify for state and national competitions every year.
The division’s Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow program has seen growth in recent years, with more VTfT students signing early teaching contracts with VBCPS to return for jobs upon successful completion of their college degree and teaching certification.
The division’s citywide STEM Trifecta event is also expanding this year. Held annually at the city’s convention center, Lockett said they have rented an extra hall to better accommodate all those participating in the maker, robotics and cybersecurity challenges. Though the event is in June, student teams from elementary, middle and high schools prepare throughout the year, developing their skills ranging from computer programming to entrepreneurship and innovation.
In addition to hosting citywide events, seeking partnerships and dual enrollment opportunities with local colleges, universities and businesses as well as offering targeted internships and aligning instruction with current business and industry needs, are all part of the CTE program’s focus to ensure future success for students.
“It’s our goal to continue expanding opportunities,” said Lockett, “and the kids are hungry for it.”
For more information about the division’s CTE programs, visit vbschools.com.