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CTE gains popularity

Expanding high school CTE through ICON

By ZOË WATKINS - zwatkins@t-g.com
Posted 1/28/23

Bedford County Schools has applied for a $5 million grant to be given over the next three years to expand CTE (Career and technical education) classes.

It’s a non-competitive grant that …

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CTE gains popularity

Expanding high school CTE through ICON


Bedford County Schools has applied for a $5 million grant to be given over the next three years to expand CTE (Career and technical education) classes.

It’s a non-competitive grant that was included in Gov. Bill Lee’s budget that passed in May. Every high school across the state of Tennessee that had a population over 100 received $1 million each. Middle schools received $500,000.

“The purpose of that is to reimagine time, space, and modes of learning to create a unique high school experience for students so they can feel a sense of belonging and have achievement,” said Lori Sexton, director of secondary CTE.

So, what is Bedford planning to do with the funds?

First, CTE is important because the college-going rate since 2020 has dropped drastically, according to Sexton.

“But what we’re finding is a lot of students don’t need to go to earn a four-year degree to have a high-wage profession,” said Sexton. “Most of our employers...want you to be able to communicate, to work in teams, to show up to work on time.”

That is, they want students to become coachable and teachable all while maintaining a professional atmosphere—something you can gain with non-traditional classes.

Right now, there are 16 CTE courses across the three high schools.

At Cascade High there are five classes including animal and veterinary science, teaching as a profession, criminal justice, dietetics and nutrition program, and emergency services.

At Community High, they have accounting and business, fashion design, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), medical therapeutics, as well as dietetics and nutrition.

At Shelbyville Central, they have advanced manufacturing and welding, automotive, cosmetology, marketing, emergency services, educational guidance and support (that is, non-teaching roles), web design, and criminal justice as well.

These classes aren’t picked at random. Rather, the Tennessee Department of Education is conducting studies with data pointing to the “high demand, high wage” jobs for the region, while the school system gleans information from students about which courses are the most popular, according to Sexton.

There is also an increase in graduation requirements. “We’re holding our students to a bit of a higher standard than what we’ve been previously holding them to. The grant just provides the equipment to start up some of these new programs,” said Sexton.

Under the grant, there are several CTE options that Sexton said they would like to expand.

This ICON program, or Innovative Career Opportunities Network, is geared toward juniors and seniors. They get to have four hours of on-site training in place of a class, under the work-based learning umbrella.

For instance, at Cascade High they would like to look into implementing a beef cattle agriculture program where students get to raise and sell cattle. This will capture not only students interested in the agricultural community but also those interested in animal science and marketing.

This is part of their “school-based enterprise” where students can take their work-based learning course or practicum at the school, making it as on-site as possible with the same objectives.

At Community High School, they will look into multi-purpose building, where students will get to construct a tiny house. “Construction is a huge need. It's an in-demand career here and across the state,” said Sexton.

Not only will students get hands-on construction work, but Sexton says they will get to touch on that STEM component with engineering. 

This will be in addition to building up the agricultural program currently there.

Expanding CTE at Shelbyville Central did present a challenge due to the lack of building expansion available. SCHS does have a CTE Annex where students can take welding and automotive. But Sexton said they would like to build a greenhouse with the grant money for students to study horticulture and even landscape. “Just to show them that seed to process concept is going to be huge,” said Sexton.

Partnering with the horticulture department, they would also like to expand studies into culinary classes to teach students a skill as well as how to run a sustainable business.

They also hope to implement a dog grooming business, called Golden Eagle Dog Grooming, where students can have hands-on experience with animal science as well as provide a service to the community such as working with the local animal shelter.

How does CTE work?

Students can start their freshman year and go through their senior year. If a student decides to change their CTE area of study, Sexton said they will still receive high school credit, but they encourage students to take at least three years of a subject.

For example, Level 4, which is where the school system needs the most growth, usually involves a practicum and more hands-on experience and is reserved for senior year.

“Students who are completers tend to stick with their programs of study more than students who just dabble,” said Sexton.

Sexton said they will be in contact with local industry partners. She added that said she hopes more local industries and small businesses continue to reach out to her to partner with the school to aid in this workforce development.

The recent change to block scheduling has helped make adding more CTE curriculum possible as well, Sexton explained.

The state passed an Industry 4.0 Diploma Distinction for students who know they don’t want to seek a four-year degree and this ICON program will help with that by allowing them to earn credits as early as junior year.

Introducing ICON would require more school positions to help students through the transitions, which is a challenge among the statewide teacher shortage. However, Sexton said they already filled all the added CTE positions (that is, seven positions) for next year.

“I think that’s probably a benefit for current teachers. You can teach something for eight or 10 years but to add something new like this is really exciting for our current teachers to teach a new subject area. It's invigorating,” said communications director Carol Garrette.

These teachers are required to be work-based learning certified which is a two-year certification consisting of an online module and in-person training.

Transporting students from school to their workplace is another challenge. But the grant allows the school to purchase new vans for this purpose.

Sexton said they do have to provide a “sustainability plan” to ensure the programs can continue once the grant money runs out.

“I think this is going to change the trajectory for students’ lives in Bedford County....We need to amp up the opportunities for those students who are not choosing a post-secondary degree and understand that it’s okay they’re not pursuing a post-secondary degree,” said Sexton.