Community gets an up-close look at TSDs new Career and Technical Education Center

By Dan Karpiel

The Surveyor

Tuesday evening on the campus of what was formerly known as Van Buren Elementary School in Loveland, parents, students, members of the Thompson School District (TSD) Board of Education, district officials, and Congressman Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) braved the drizzle and cool temperatures to get a first-hand look at the new Career and Technical Education (CTE) center.

Last year the board voted to close two small elementary schools in Loveland – one of them Van Buren – and refurbish the facilities for other district purposes. Thanks to the premium the district made from the sale of bonds voters approved in the November 2018 election, the board used some of the funds to create the CTE. The same campus will also house Ferguson High School, the TSD’s alternative high school for at-risk students.

The CTE, that will be open to all the district’s high school students, will offer five pathways and has established partnerships with the two community colleges – Front Range and Aims – to help develop the programs. The five pathways are healthcare, construction skills trades, advanced manufacturing/welding, computer science/robotics and automotive mechanics. Automotive will remain in its current location at Thompson Valley High School, which already has an auto shop in place, and the other four will be based at the new CTE.

In each pathway the students will have three semesters worth of classroom-based work and the fourth and final semester would be in a work-based learning environment, an apprenticeship-type opportunity. The idea would be for students to graduate not only with a certificate in their chosen pathway, but also with some college credit which district officials say is a natural extension of the program.

“The goal of our educational program is to make the student ready for their path in life,” said Dave Levy, TSD board member. “Some choose college, some don’t. Those that don’t choose college, it’s wonderful that they have more of a skill base needed to enter the workforce rather than just an academic base. This presents to the platform for them to have those opportunities. (The CTE) is going to be a great enhancement for district and for the whole community.”

A major component of developing the CTE curriculum pathways is accomplished by creating partnerships with local businesses. CareerWise Colorado, an organization that serves as the bridge between industry and education, is the TSD’s partner with the CTE and its associated programs.

CareerWise works with businesses in the area, both large and small, to identify where they have gaps in their talent pipelines and then works correspondingly with educators to find students who have interest in those career fields.

“For many of our students, they don’t see themselves necessarily going on to college right away and maybe there’s not as much interest in their academic program, so the career tech ed program provides opportunities for students to provide real-world work experiences, authentic learning environments and opportunities to really see things that are of a passion for them and hopefully that translates to a career after high school,’ said Dr. Marc Schaffer, TSD superintendent. “It really provides some really new and exciting opportunities for our students when we begin to reimagine what opportunities exist for students beyond high school.”

Studies have found often times when a student graduates from high school they feel a binary choice between pursuing a traditional college education or simply joining the workforce. The hope, district officials say, is the CTE will open up greater opportunities for young people post-high school. The idea would be for students to gain some real-world work experience in a field that is of interest to them, earn a certificate, some college credit, and make connections with others in their field. From there the students can begin working or pursue further studies, particularly at the community- or junior-college level, to learn new skills that provide greater opportunities for employment.

As Schaffer explained, “So often we look at student achievement as test scores, but student achievement is far more than test scores. It’s really about preparing students for college, career, and community readiness. We measure success by how we prepare students for life beyond high school.”

The CTE will open to students next fall.

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