State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor visited DeForest Area High School Wednesday and came away impressed with its career and technical education (CTE) program.
Taylor praised the community for investing in the high school’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) area and “… making sure students are exposed to these opportunities.”
February has been declared “CTE Month” in Wisconsin. CTE programs set out to build school-to-career connections by collaborating with area businesses and utilizing various resources.
Taylor is touring parts of the state to review CTE programs in state schools and emphasize their importance. She traveled to Cuba City on Feb. 12, and on Thursday, Feb. 20, Taylor was scheduled to go to Milwaukee to tour Bay View High School and James Madison Academic Campus.
CTE programs in Wisconsin aim to prepare students for the modern workplace and a multitude of careers before they graduate. Among the areas included in CTE programs in Wisconsin are: entrepreneurship; engineering; manufacturing; agriculture; business and information technology; family and consumer sciences; health science; marketing; and management.
DeForest’s STEAM area at the high school was expanded and improved as part of the April 2015 $41 million referendum, remodeling and adding space for technology education and agri-science programs that hadn’t been renovated since the building was constructed in 1969.
The technology education space at the Middle School was also expanded as part of the referendum.
The work was designed to enhance integration of technical programs with the science and math curriculum, while also providing space for other program options, including engineering, biomedical sciences and computer science and software engineering. Programs such as construction, welding and animal science, among others, also received an upgrade.
At her DeForest stop, Taylor was joined by Morna Foy, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System, and Caleb Frostman, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. A number of school officials, including several school board members, also attended the session.
“We came here to see how DeForest is taking advantage of CTE and to see what the district is doing for its students,” said Taylor.
Foy added, “I think it’s important when communities make investments in their children.”
Upon arrival, the three met with members of different school organizations, such as Future Farmers of America (FFA), Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).
Students Spencer Treinen, Natalie Skaife, Sam Fischer and Brooke Buhr talked about their clubs and how they’ve grown. Six years ago, FBLA had only 15 members. That number now exceeds 120. FFA membership in the DeForest Area School District has doubled in recent years, ballooning to 445 members, even though only six members actually live on farms. Meanwhile, FCCLA just started in the district this year.
Foy said CTE teachers are like “gold,” before asking what can be done to help CTE educators and their students.
Gwen Boettcher, an agri-science educator and FFA advisor with the DeForest, said more effort should be made in the classroom to tie CTE education with other subjects for students.
As for recruiting prospective teachers to CTE, Boettcher wants to make the job not seem so daunting because CTE educators can put in a lot of hours in their jobs.
“We want to make sure the job doesn’t look like it becomes your life,” said Boettcher.
Students Jamison Meier and Adam Szepieniec took groups on tours of the technology, agriculture and STEAM areas of the high school. They got to see a vase for a steel rose made with an oxy-fuel torch, the aquaponic area where waste from fish raised in a tank is used to grow lettuce and the rabbits kept by the agriculture department, along with an injection simulator that has a plastic head shaped like that of a cow.
They looked in on other areas, including family and consumer sciences, where they watched a culinary arts class make spring rolls. They also asked questions of students in a medical occupations class.
Next up, they toured the business and information technology department, checking in on classes in advanced accounting and marketing. They also visited the school’s store to end the trip.
Taylor said she had recently visited Germany to see how that country’s CTE programs compared to those in Wisconsin. She said she thinks the state is doing well.
Foy said kids who get to take these CTE opportunities before moving on to post-secondary schooling usually perform well after high school, whether they choose academics or a career path.
Foy said she’d visited DeForest schools before 2015 and described the STEAM area improvements as “phenomenal.”
“DeForest has done an amazing job highlighting options that used to be relegated to the basement or a back room,” said Foy. “They’ve made these programs cool and exciting.”