Magazine article Techniques

The Art of Counseling: Convincing Students and Parents That CTE Is Career and College Prep

Magazine article Techniques

The Art of Counseling: Convincing Students and Parents That CTE Is Career and College Prep

Article excerpt

Knowledge is the key ingredient to successful counseling in career and technical education (CTE). Know the student you are advising. Know the programs, pathways and possibilities. Know what it takes to be successful in each career.

"It's important to know your students well enough that you can assess their skills and aptitudes," said David Pullman, a guidance counselor at the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVTT), a public CTE school in Mesa, Arizona. "Counselors need to really understand what lies at the end of CTE studies, and they need to know how to communicate that to kids and parents."

With American industries facing a shortage of skilled workers, never has CTE been more important. Many of the occupations in these fields, such as the industrial trades, are well paid. But how do you get today's teenagers to consider CTE options, especially when they, their parents and many school career and guidance counselors have been conditioned to only consider college prep?

The 2013 report, 21st Century Career and Technical Education Pathways on the Rise, by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, found: "The combination of societal expectations, parental pressure and high school advising geared toward college has created a narrow focus on attaining a four-year college degree at the expense of other pathways," (p. 40).

Pullman has seen evidence of that firsthand at EVIT, a central campus that receives students from high schools in 10 districts in the suburbs east of Phoenix. "I gather there is so much pressure in some schools to increase the number of students who are going to Ivy League schools, that it's all about college," he said.

Last spring in a survey of more than 2,600 EVIT students, 64 percent said they had learned about EVIT programs from family and friends. Just 25 percent said they were informed about EVIT's CTE programs by their high school guidance counselor. A student in EVIT's Human Anatomy and Physiology for Medical Careers program commented: "Counselors were trying to get me to stay [at high school instead of attending EVIT] because they thought that if I took [CTE], I wouldn't go to college."

"These students benefit by coming to EVIT," Pullman said. "CTE is not either or. It's career and college prep."

Exploratory vs. Preparatory

A lack of understanding about the rigors of a quality CTE program often results in students signing up for programs that do not really fit their aptitude or interest, Pullman said. "There's a tendency to not understand the depth of what happens in a school like EVIT." For example, students who sign up for EVIT's Veterinary Assistant program do not always realize that it is not just an animal biology class. Rather, it's filled with anatomy, physiology, medical terminology and procedures performed on live animals.

"Students who come to EVIT don't always understand that EVIT classes are not exploratory classes; they are preparatory classes," Pullman said, with nearly every program preparing students to test for an industry license or a certification. In contrast, many CTE classes offered by some school districts have traditionally been more like exploratory electives.

Consequently, when students and parents tour EVIT for the first time, they are often surprised by the level of rigor and work involved in each program.

"When I give a tour, their eyes are as wide as saucers," Pullman said. "Last week, some parents toured our Aviation program. They saw the lab, the classroom and the flight simulators and couldn't believe it. I was like, 'Yes, we are getting ready to put kids in planes. We turn out pilots.'"

Pullman said counselors need to have a thorough understanding of CTE pathways and the professions they can lead to. At EVIT, he has often met with parents--especially those who are affluent--who are horrified when their son or daughter shows an aptitude for automotive work. …

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