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OPINION: CTE offers an important pathway for students | Today

Finding your way is not always easy.

Longtime readers may remember hearing about my early days in journalism, but for those who don’t know, it was just before my freshman year in high school. Creative writing and literature were important to me, so Mom took me to meet the journalism professor, who ran both yearbook and newspaper classes.

While this introverted 14-year-old had no reporting skills, she obviously knew how to write, so the teacher allowed her to skip Journalism 1 and join the newspaper team immediately. The memory of that first story has long since faded, but not the sense of rightness upon seeing “By Laura McFarland” printed in a newspaper for the first time. My fate was sealed. It’s going to make me old to say that, but that was 26 years ago, and I’m still on the same path.

But life is not always so clear for everyone. Some people search for years to find the right career, and some never do. When I was in high school I felt like the message we heard everywhere all the time was that striving to get and get into a good college was the best option a student can achieve. College was the path for me, so I didn’t question that mentality too much or honestly think much after graduation for many years, at least not in a concrete way.

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When I started covering Powhatan County news and especially getting to know the public schools, I was introduced to the division’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program at an early age. Although the CTE program is just one of many options for students thinking about their future plans, it is an important option.

Powhatan High School offers excellent options in a wide range of studies, including carpentry and construction trades, family and consumer sciences, technological education, electrical, cosmetology, firefighting, business and information technologies, health and medical sciences, agriculture and horticulture, welding, automotive mechanics, animal sciences, JROTC, engineering and culinary arts. Some of these programs could lead to future university studies, while others could lead to a state certification or license allowing graduates to access a job or an apprenticeship.

Although I am very aware of these important programs, I received some good reminders last week about the role they play for PHS students.

On April 21, I spent several hours in high school, most of it devoted to CTE-related content. It all started with lunch at Bailey’s Café. The school invited representatives from several foodservice-related businesses to come and learn about the culinary arts program.

Meanwhile, overseeing the lunch rush for the student-run cafe, culinary instructor Mark Robertson visited the table and spoke to representatives from restaurants, a country club and a French fry company. Its goal was to connect businesses with the culinary program in hopes of creating opportunities to see students accepted into jobs and/or internships.

The idea is a win-win for the community. Local businesses get another source of potential candidates from which to hire staff, which can only be a good thing when you consider the staffing shortages so many businesses are facing. In return, as he begins to make those connections with interested hospitality-related businesses, Robertson has the chance to help his students find quality positions in an industry they may consider their field. predilection.

After lunch, I met the three talented CTE students featured in the front page story – Makenzie Parrish, Cameron Christopher and Nolan Heckel – who placed first in their categories at the SkillsUSA State Leadership Conference earlier this this month. Talking to them about the competitions, especially the preparation and their passion for their classes, was really interesting.

Heckel told me that he was already involved with a co-op that employed him through a local business and it was nice to see his face light up when he talked about finding out how much he unexpectedly enjoyed competing in the state level and qualify for a national competition. Christopher talked about signing up for nail technician courses initially thinking of it as a possible “side hustle” in the future, but finding a real passion for it.

Whatever career path these students and others enrolled in CTE courses ultimately choose to follow upon graduation, the high school has given them a solid option through the CTE program that can only add to their technical, academic and employability skills.

Laura McFarland can be contacted at

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