I used to think that vocational education, now called CTE, was a separate pathway for Chehalis students who were not going to college. Growing up I heard adults, including sometimes teachers and counselors, say that certain students were not “college material.”

Over the past few years I’ve listened to experts in CTE, read studies and reviewed data about Chehalis grad’s success or in credential programs in CTE pathways. Listening especially to the CTE people at Centralia College has changed my thinking on what a CTE pathway really means and its connection to the Student Achievement Initiative and students being “college ready.”

The goal of the Chehalis Student Achievement Initiative (SAI) is to advance from the national average of 30% to 60% of our graduates moving on to earn a credential past high school starting by the class of 2022. That credential can be a CTE credential or an AA, apprenticeship or military service or a four-year college degree. They all count toward the SAI goal.

Jake Fay, Dean of Instruction at Centralia College oversees the Industrial Trades and Health Care CTE programs. He is convinced there are very few careers a student with only a high school diploma can enter now that will lead to a lifetime of family wage earning. “In today’s international economy demanding technology skills, almost every family wage career pathway requires a credential past high school.

For people my age, when somebody says “college” it conjures up the image of Frat parties and students lugging books on ivy campuses while they earn their 4-year degree in sociology, history or Biology. “College” today, includes Industrial Trade classes and students training to work as: welders, diesel mechanics, nursing assistants, CDL drivers, phlebotomists, law enforcement officers, warehouse operation staff and a long list of other jobs. Centralia College offers more than 25 separate CTE credentials.

The Washington Business Roundtable includes the largest business employers in our state. They say, “the credential is essential.”  They mean a credential past high school is needed for almost every high school student who hopes to go on to earn a family wage job.

I probably have been guilty of the old mindset that CTE is something separate from “college.” Learning from Jake and others I realize that if a student isn’t graduating from WF West planning to go to college, they are not going to be on a path toward a family wage job.  CTE is not a separate pathway from “college.”  To maximize the potential to earn a family wage job and career in CTE, including the trades, requires a student to obtain a credential past high school from a college or through an apprenticeship.

In the Chehalis School District we sometimes say “college or career ready” for our kids is the SAI goal.  Other times we say the goal is “college and career ready for every student.”  But there really isn’t an “or” path for CTE that doesn’t also run through college if we want success for Chehalis kids.  Graduating kids from WF West who are ready to start in a family wage career, after just earning their high school diploma, isn’t real anymore.

A good CTE program in the district will give our students exposure to different career pathways exactly the way the STEM program exposes kids to career science and math pathways. The CTE program needs to expose students to different potential pathways and to teach them some skills that give them a head start, a leg up, when they go on to get their credential beyond high school.

I’m thankful we have many people who care about Career and Technical Education in Chehalis. Our educators are doing a fine job, and members of various committees are as well. The Chehalis Foundation has established a committee to direct the management of the Leonard Trust. Local business leaders Gretchen Moore, Heidi Pehl, Mark Giffey, and Kirby White along with CTE Director Rick Goble and Assistant Superintendent Brian Fox make up the Leonard Trust Committee.

CTE advisory committees across the state advise, assist, and provide support and advocacy for quality CTE programs. In Chehalis, advisory committee members provide input into the development of a strong CTE program. Local business leaders Eric Corder, Luke Moerke, and JD Fernstrom, along with Chehalis Foundation Executive Director Jenny Collins, CTE teachers Alison Clinton and Donnie Bunker join Fox and Goble to make up the CTE Advisory Committee. They meet three times each year.

With a working knowledge of the job tasks and competencies required for related occupations, related labor market needs, and courses necessary to meet these needs, several industry partners join CTE Director Rick Goble and the entire CTE teaching staff twice each year. In the fall of 2020 there were 27 participants gathered remotely for their meeting.

We’ve learned in Chehalis through the success of the SAI that almost every kid who comes through our system is college material.  100% of the WF West class of 2020 was admitted to Centralia College thanks to specially designed Career and College Readiness activities led by high school staff. CTE is a unique component which complements an established culture of “career and college readiness” evident in our school district.  CTE provides students an opportunity to choose a unique path that complements their talents and interests and prepares them with the knowledge and skills that are valued in college, work, and life.

In addition to serving on the Chehalis School District Board of Directors, J Vander Stoep is a Chehalis practicing attorney and partner in the firm of Vander Stoep, Remund, Blinks & Jones. One of the original Chehalis Foundation members, J focuses on educational excellence efforts.