Magazine article Techniques

They Keep Moving the Cheese: But Charlotte CTE Students Find Passionate Pathways to Prosperity

Magazine article Techniques

They Keep Moving the Cheese: But Charlotte CTE Students Find Passionate Pathways to Prosperity

Article excerpt

As the 21st century began to peek over the horizon in 1998, Dr. Spencer Johnson's book, "Who Moved My Cheese," began its five-year run on the New York Times Best Seller List as a guide for helping anxious readers navigate through a maze of career, work and life uncertainties. Johnson's book provides important lessons about the inevitable nature of change and the good fortune awaiting those who quickly adapt to it, constantly adjust their thinking to new conditions and take advantage of emerging opportunities caused by change.

Recent conditions in our country's economy have resulted in a period of paradox as high unemployment continues to trouble America at the same time as employers complain about millions of unfilled jobs due to a serious skills gap in the nation's workforce. The prevalence of this economic situation in Charlotte, North Carolina, has caused the Olympic Community of schools to think differently about mapping and trailblazing clearer pathways to prosperity for its career and technical education (CTE) students, so they could skillfully navigate through an evolving maze of job uncertainty in America. The Olympic Schools' roadmap helps its students pursue and find their passion in life through authentic project-based and experiential learning.

Olympic, part of the 2012 Broad Prizewinning Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, won a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2005 and converted itself into a campus of five theme-based high schools: International Business and Communications Studies; Biotechnology and Health; Global Studies and Economics; Arts and Humanities; and Math, Engineering, Technology and Science. Authentic project-based learning has always been a key teaching and learning strategy embraced by the five small high schools. Project-based learning provides an opportunity to spark student curiosity, passion and the willingness to go deep in mastering content. Not only has this tactic helped increase proficiency scores on high-stakes tests by 65 percent, but also many of the Olympic "real world" projects have helped students connect with the career pathway they want to passionately pursue in life.

The following are four student testimonials about how their CTE experience at Olympic, enhanced by project-based learning, helped them find the intersection of life where passion and joy meet skill.

Carly Suddreth

A 2008 Olympic graduate, Carly was the project manager leading the effort when her high school's Construction students built their first Habital for humanity house. (The school will build its fifth house in 2012-2013). Her performance with the project caught the attention of a multinational engineering and construction firm, KBR, who partners with Olympic. KBR offered Carly a paid internship Stile at Olympic, and site continued to intern with them each summer in college. After she graduated early from Appalachian State University in late 2011 with a degree in Construction Management, KBR promptly hired Carly.

How did CTE make a difference in your life and lead you to a great job right after college?


I Was given the opportunity to be a part of something so much bigger than am by building the first Olympic' Habitat for Humanity house as part of the curriculum for my high school Construction, Drafting and Engineering classes. From an academic standpoint, this type of hands-on project helps students see the importance of science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) education, as well as building a foundation of soft skills. Not only do you get to see firsthand the importance of math, geometry, science and engineering, but you also see the value of communication, critical thinking, problem solving and working in teams. All academic disciplines come to life when you have real-world projects involving financing, project planning and organizing a team to build a house for a family.

One of the greatest things I received from that CIE experience was a paid internship. …

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