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Supporting Work For The 21st Century

The house that I grew up in was the result of my father's labor. When I was young, my father worked on the foundation of my family's home. Sometimes he would take me and give me work. I would receive a hammer, nails, and a few wooden boards and given an amount of time finish the job. Afterwards, he would inspect my work. But what I remember the most is how after each day of work, I would always be compensated with an ice cream shake. “Man don't work, man don't eat,” he would say. At an early age, my father was teaching me the importance and value of not only work, but how work was key in regards to compensation and supporting myself. This foundation that my father worked on not only supported my home, but also provided a foundation for my work ethic, my motivation, and my desire to succeed as a professional. While I was able to receive a post secondary education, the foundation that my father provided in regards to work ethic proved invaluable.

In an age of educational accountability, it is easy to focus on high stakes testing. More than ever, schools must prove their value and worth by not only showing achievement through standardized tests but other measurements such as attendance and on-time graduation rates. All of these measurements are important because they connect to student success. However, because of this focus often ideas and notions such as character education and the work ethic that my father taught me can be ignored. But at Prince Edward County High School our students are able to receive the rigorous instruction in regards to core subjects and learn the value of work and the skills that are necessary to compete in a global society because our high school has an added value: The Career and Technical Education Center.

Our Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC) provides instruction for our students in a number of areas such as health and medical sciences, business and information technology, agricultural education, culinary arts, and trade and industrial education. All of these are fields that can provide skills for our students immediately after high school. However, our Career and Technical Education Center teaches our learners much more. In the Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner identifies several attributes that young people will need to be successful in the 21st century. Critical thinking, collaboration, initiative, and entrepreneurialism, are just a few of the skills that Wagner lists that individuals will need in order to compete in a global society. These are the skills that our CTEC teachers relay to our students on a daily basis.

Also, our Career and Technical Education Center prepares our students for the challenges of a global society by setting the foundation in five critical areas of Agricultural Education, Culinary Arts, Health and Medical Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Trade and Industrial Education. Prince Edward County High School students have the opportunity to not only take classes in these areas, but also have the opportunity to complete a program sequence and take credentialing exams such as the occupational competency exam, workplace readiness skills test, or an industry certification such as CNA. A Career and Technical Education program completer is a student who has met the requirements for a CTE concentration and all requirements for high school graduation or an approved alternative education program. The completer program not only insures that students have met core area requirements, but also signals to employers that our students have a foundation in several job areas and workplace readiness skills. This gives our students an added advantage in a competitive job market. Next year, all ninth grade students in the state of Virginia will be required to have a CTE Completer in order to graduate.

While many school divisions have to send students to neighboring facilities to receive career and technical education, our Career and Technical Education program is a part of the high school. This allows our students to take CTEC courses across the street from their home school, a benefit that students in many other divisions do not enjoy.

But while serving and teaching our students 21st century skills, our CTEC teachers continue to move Prince Edward County High School closer to being the best school in the state. The teachers at the Career and Technical Education Center work collaboratively with core teachers to serve our students. Each core area department is supported by a group of CTEC and elective teachers. In these communities of learners our English, math, science, and history departments meet regularly to connect their curriculums to build relevance and create cross curricular lessons. To add, our CTE teachers look at core achievement data regularly and sustain the efforts to support students who need additional aid in passing benchmark and standards of learning (SOL) assessments. The collaboration between our core area teachers, elective teachers, and CTEC teachers has been critical in Prince Edward County High School's increased SOL achievement and graduate completer index(GCI).

Even in an age of accountability, we must remember that the success of our students and our high school is dependent on whether or not our learners not only pass core area assessments but learn the skills that are vital in competing in a global society. Prince Edward County High School's ability to connect core area content to elective and CTEC courses has proven invaluable for our students and has been instrumental in the success of our school.

” Man don't work; man don't eat.” My father knew all too well the importance of work. At an early age, he not only provided a foundation for my family's home, but he also provided a foundation for my work ethic and my ability to contend in competitive job environment. The challenges that await our students are different from the challenges that I faced, but the importance of work is still critical. Students at Prince Edward County High School are fortunate to not only learn the value of work that my father taught me, but gain an essential foundation in an area of work and learn the skills necessary to complete globally.

(Reed is principal of Prince Edward County High School and writes the On The Wings Of Eagles column for The Herald)