TSA Rocks DC

Over 6,800 students, parents, and advisors attended the 36th Annual National Technology Student Association (TSA) Conference in Washington, DC last week. I was privileged to be one of those. TSA is committed to students studying in Technology Education and those interested in a STEM career. Middle and high school TSA students traveled to DC from across the nation to network, compete, and share new ideas and skills that could be used in the future.

Photo of Elisabeth Stansbury, Robin Utz, and Caleb Gum standing in front of a banner at the National TSA Conference in Washington, DC.

Elisabeth Stansbury, left, and Caleb Gum, right, pause for a quick photo at the 36th Annual National TSA Conference in Washington, DC.

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Getting to “Yes”

Photo of students standing with Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and DATE Division Director Sharon Miller

Students gather for a photo with Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and DATE Division Director Sharon Miller

Earlier this week, Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and I visited an Advanced Manufacturing Early College High School in Queensbury, New York. A partnership between the Hudson Falls, Queensbury, and Saratoga School Districts, the State University of New York (SUNY) Adirondack, and the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES, this high school enables students to earn up to 24 college credits, four nationally-recognized industry certifications, a Regents diploma, and a valuable internship experience.

Students (juniors and seniors) are dually enrolled in high school and SUNY Adirondack as non-matriculated students. They spend half of their day attending classes that are co-led by college faculty and BOCES instructors, and the other half of their day taking Regents-level courses at their home school. Their work is largely project-based, requiring them to solve real-world problems generated by the program’s extensive group of business partners. A current project involves the students developing an MRI cooling system for Queensbury-based Philips Health Care.

As part of the visit, we received a student-led overview of the program, a brief tour of an advanced manufacturing lab, and then conducted two round tables–one with administrators, teachers, faculty, and employers, and a second with teachers, parents, and students. What stood out among the comments, one employer said, “The wonderful thing about this program is that it helps students ‘get to yes!’” By this, the employer stated that many of today’s new and current employees see only challenges and barriers to their work. They lack the problem-solving skills to analyze data, synthesize information, work through failure, and persist to resolution. This program is helping students to gain these and other essential skills to help them prepare for college and careers!

Indeed, our nation needs many more high schools and CTE programs like this across the nation. In so doing, we’d be helping many more students “get to yes!”

Sharon Miller is the Director of the Division of Academic and Technical Education in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Transforming CTE for the Global Economy

Johan Uvin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for OVAE, was a featured panelist at the 2013 U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference in Austin, TX on June 18.  The session, which focused on “Transforming Career and Technical Education for the Global Economy,” was moderated by Mimi Lufkin, the CEO for the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE). 

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College and Career-Ready Conversations in South Seattle

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

“Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge: to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.”  

- President Barack Obama, February 12. 2013

State Superintendent for Washington

State Superintendent for Washington, Randy Dorn speaks with teachers and staff members from the Department of Education

When President Obama spoke those words in this year’s State of the Union address, I felt like cheering.  As a science teacher, it’s my job to help students fall in love with learning and explore important questions about how the world works.  I also know the principles and problem-solving skills they’re mastering will help them succeed in today’s competitive global economy, where science, technology, engineering and math (or “STEM”) careers are on the rise.  And, through fellowships with the U.S. Department of Education, I’ve been paying even closer attention to how the Obama Administration’s proposals affect my work.

The President’s High School Redesign plan would invest in programs that re-invigorate the American high school experience for the 21st century.  Strengthening Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and collaborating more closely with postsecondary, business and community partners are two ways that high schools can re-think their current model. I recently had an opportunity to visit a school that’s using both of these strategies when I accompanied Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, on a trip to Cleveland High School in Seattle, Wash.

As teachers and school leaders across the country think about implementing the President’s plan, there’s a lot we can learn from schools that have already started down this path.  Cleveland High School was restructured as a STEM-themed school four years ago, and according to the principal, Princess Shareef, “There was no template set for us.” Instead, school leaders and staff had the freedom to innovate, meeting every week and including parents, employers and other partners in designing a new approach. The result?  A high school in South Seattle that provides a college-and-career-ready curriculum through project-based learning, and connects students with mentors from the surrounding community.

TAF post 2

Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education speaks with State Superintendent of Washington, Randy Dorn

During classroom walk-throughs, we spent time in a computer engineering class and talked with students engaged in a reverse-engineering assignment.  In this hands-on design project, students choose an everyday object like a toy car or a mechanical pencil, measure the object using calibration tools, design and draw blueprints, transform the blueprints into multi-view drawings, and create a mock assembly. The students we met clearly understand and excel in their subject.  They’re also confident that what they’re learning will empower them in the future.

One student said, “It’s really nice to have experience with the computer-aided design, and this will help with job preparedness. Most [engineering] jobs are looking for experience in graphic design.” Another added, “I’m learning how to solve problems and to communicate with my team every day. This is important for my career in the future.”

These students realize that, in today’s marketplace, they need even more technical skills and experience. The days of working in isolation are over: problem-solving and teamwork skills are essential for success in the 21st century.  At Cleveland High School, students learn to be effective collaborators through project-based learning.

As one student explained, “We get graded on work as a team. Communication is important and there are instances when the group doesn’t function and so you have to learn how to communicate in a better way. You also learn how to speak for yourself and develop a voice.”  A business leader at the table drew an appreciative laugh from the group by noting, “Yes, just like in the real world.”

Equipped with a full range of academic, technical and employability skills, students at Cleveland High School will be ready for the demands of the world that awaits them after graduation.  That’s good news for them and for the employers in their region.  It’s also great news for the country.

As Dean of Students Catherine Brown told the assembled students, employers and civic leaders that, by coming together to re-engineer Cleveland High School, “You’re not just thinking of your industry—you’re thinking about the common good of society.”  By focusing on relevant, real-world skills; by making STEM-themed learning, wrap-around services and broad-based partnerships a vital part of each school day; and by graduating college-and-career-ready students, this re-engineered high school is preparing the next generation of U.S. leaders in some of tomorrow’s most exciting professions.

Dr. Kareen Borders is a Regional Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

College-Bound Students Choose CTE Pathways in High School

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier has her blood pressure measured by Cassandra Eddy, a student at Union County Vocational-Technical School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey  - credit Kathryn Forsyth, NJCCVTS

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier has her blood pressure measured by Cassandra Eddy, a student at Union County Vocational-Technical School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey
- photo by Kathryn Forsyth, NJCCVTS

Rutgers University. Yale University. Northeastern University. Stevens University. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. These are among the colleges that seniors from Union County Vocational-Technical Schools in Scotch Plains, New Jersey are headed this fall.

As one parent of a Yale-bound senior put it, “This is what high school should be for every student.” The Administration agrees, having issued both its blueprint for Perkins reauthorization in April 2012 and proposed a $300 million High School Redesign in the FY 2014 budget. Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier states, “Our students shouldn’t have to make a decision between college or a career; every student needs to be prepared for both.” Union County Vocational-Technical Schools has turned this vision into a reality and, at the same time, become a school of first choice for students in Union County. Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier had the opportunity to experience the vision first-hand during her recent visit on May 23.

It used to be that enrollment in career and technical education, much less a full-time area career center, would not be the best option for students preparing for college, particularly at one of the leading universities in the nation. Union County Vocational-Technical Schools has fundamentally changed this situation and now makes enrollment in career and technical education the “sought-after option” for high school students.

Union County Vocational-Technical Schools offers five academy schools on its campus, including The Academy for Allied Health Sciences, The Academy for Information Technology, and a Magnet High School which focuses on STEM-related programs. Students participate in rigorous academic courses that are integrated with their career and technical education courses, complete work-based learning, earn college credit for courses taken during high school, and earn industry-recognized certificates.

School administration officials attribute their schools’ success to ongoing partnerships with business/industry and postsecondary education to develop and implement their programs. Students credit the teaching staff and career guidance counselors who help them acquire work-based learning opportunities, complete FASFA forms, and submit college applications. Parents recognize the entire school team for helping students gain the academic, career-related, and employability skills that help them prepare for their future.