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HCHS Spotlight; On the Road to Real-World Relevance

“Sophomore Aidan Gaynor measures the distance traveled by his cable car in Mr. Mattingly’s Intro to Engineering Design course.”

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Though first published 165 years ago, Walt Whitman’s opening stanza from “Song of the Open Road” still captures the freedom of choosing one’s own path: a freedom earned through education. In Whitman’s day, to access the road of success, a high school diploma paid the toll in full.

Today, though, graduating high school has become but a single milestone on the journey of life-long learning. With an increasingly competitive market and ever-changing technological landscape, if graduates are to travel the open road extolled by Whitman, they must plan for their path in the post-secondary world. To guide students in that planning, Hancock County provides the support necessary for every student to be “transition-ready” upon graduation. For a graduate to be considered transition-ready, he or she must meet certain academic or career-oriented benchmarks, which are set by state regulations.

One such method of becoming transition-ready is through the HCHS Career and Technical Education Pathways program. The CTE pathways offered by HCHS not only assist students in becoming transition-ready; they open up new avenues for student exploration and career preparation.

As part of a larger state-wide system, Hancock County’s CTE pathways are aligned with requirements set forth by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998, a federal law that redesigned and unified career-oriented training and education across the United States. Within that framework, high school students can pursue learning in a wide variety of career areas.

Currently, Hancock County High School offers full pathways in the fields of business, finance, culinary arts, early childhood education, diesel mechanics, agriculture, engineering, media arts, graphic design, healthcare, and information technology. Lori Roberts, who teaches in the business pathway, explained how the pathways fit within the state’s goals. “Kentucky has adopted sixteen ‘career clusters’ that encompass a wide variety of career opportunities. Within our small school, students are able to explore at least 13 of those career clusters, which is phenomenal for a school our size,” she said.

CTE Pathways also bridge the gap between high school academia and real-world applications. Greg Tate, who spent 25 years in marketing and graphic design in the business world prior to becoming an art teacher, strongly believes in the value of CTE pathways.

“Students completing pathways are more prepared for real life, real jobs, and have a real edge when they pursue further education,” Tate said. “I think the biggest advantage is all the experience that students get by using various programs and tools which are taught in each pathway.

For Graphic Design, we teach the fundamentals, and also computer programs for design, photo editing, and video editing. Each pathway has a similar story with tools for their particular field of study.” Josh Smith, the CTE agriculture teacher, added that each pathway “provides a sense of structure and sequence which aligns a student’s courses and interests to not only become college/career ready but prepares them for the real world.”

Another pathway that relies heavily on the mastery of tools is Engineering. Larry Mattingly teaches CTE courses focused on engineering and design and described the rationale for offering such a challenging subject.

“We created the Engineering Design and Civil Engineering pathways to excite and drive interest in the understanding of how items are produced or constructed. Special attention is paid to the Mechanical Engineering field, as this is Hancock County’s largest demand area,” he said. By providing students with an opportunity to earn industry certifications in all pathways, including engineering, HCHS gives graduating students an advantage over other potential employees who are entering a career field.

Additionally, several of the pathways offered by Hancock County lead to careers identified by the Kentucky Cabinet for Education and Workforce Development as being in high demand across the Commonwealth.

For Roberts, providing students with an opportunity to explore one or multiple pathways prepares them to go beyond career training and gives them a platform to learn skills that will serve them their entire life. Mattingly agreed, saying that the courses offered through the school’s CTE pathways offer students the chance to develop critical thinking skills and insights into how to solve real-world challenges. When it comes to the importance of career and technical education, for the students who explore them, CTE courses aren’t just another subject in school but a preview of the wide-open road ahead.

By Josh Scherrer

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