PENDLETON — Pendleton Heights High School continues to expand and enhance its vocational education program (or CTE) as evidence piles up demonstrating that students are benefiting greatly from such experiences. Currently 800 students (70 percent of the school’s population) are enrolled in at least one CTE course.

“Students at schools with highly integrated, rigorous academic and CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs have significantly higher student achievement in reading, mathematics and science than do students at schools with less integrated programs, as reported by the Southern Regional Education Board,” states a report by the Association for Career and Technical Education.

But more than an increase in test scores, research has shown an increase in the students’ bottom line.

“The 2004 NAVE Independent Advisory Panel Report indicated that students who took four high school CTE courses showed an average increase in earnings of $1,200 immediately after graduation and $1,800 seven years later,” continues the ACTE report.

Probably the most-widely recognized component of PHHS’s vocational program is ICE, commonly known as the co-op program. Students are involved with classes in the morning — several of which are business-related courses — and then leave school to work a real job.

Not only do they receive course credit, but a paycheck as well.

“I’ve worked after school since my sophomore year,” said Morgan Powell, senior. “This way I can work and make money and still have time in the evening for homework and extra-curricular activities. I’m not so rushed.”

While this program used to be directed at students that did not plan to attend college, many students are now taking advantage of the opportunity to earn money in order to pay for college.

Powell will be paying her own way through Ball State University, majoring in elementary education. Her current day-care job at Trinity Life Center is providing her with valuable experience.

Heather Gaskill also had a job before enrolling in the ICE program. However, working in her father’s State Farm Insurance Company only after school hours limited the kinds of tasks she was able to perform.

“This way I was able to have more time in the office and was able to get my own license,” she said. “I don’t think I would have had time to earn my license if I were going to school full time.”

Gaskill is saving money to attend Anderson University in the fall, studying accounting and computer science.

Krista Wilber is working a whopping 40 hours a week at RadioShack on 53rd Street. Her boss likes to have her in the store because she is already the top seller. She said she is learning all kinds of things that will enhance her job performance in the future — things she wouldn’t necessarily learn at school.

Wilber is planning to attend the International Business College and become a dental hygienist.

Another CTE offering that has changed significantly over time is Vocational Agriculture. While the focus used to be productive agriculture (farming), the topics have branched out to include resource management, turf management, landscape architecture, and agriculture business.

“Productive agriculture is such a tiny little part of the employment in the country,” said Tearle Dwiggins, Vocational Advisor and Business Department Chair. “At one time, productive agriculture was the focus, but it has branched out because so few people make a living farming — unless they are born into it.”

An option available to students who enjoy working on motor vehicles is the Vocational Automotive Service. This is a two-year program (for juniors and seniors) that meets for two hours per day. While there is a certain amount of pencil-and-paper learning, primarily a hands-on approach is used.

Best yet, those two years together count as one year toward the student’s Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification, which is a nationally recognized credential.

“Mike Morgan is the teacher, and he has had a high success rate — 65 percent — as far as students that go on to a related post-secondary education in that area or directly to the job market in that area,” added Dwiggins. “He’s got some kids who are graduates who work for Mercedes Benz and some who are in business for themselves.”

The radio broadcasting of WEEM-FM also falls under the umbrella of the CTE program. This facet has been so successful that they have received national exposure through a magazine feature. They are now recognized as a taste maker for upcoming musical artists.

Project Lead the Way provides students the opportunity to take pre-engineering courses, some of which will count for college credit. Students create designs on computers, build robots in the classroom, and learn the differences between civic engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and the other fields of engineering.

Family and Consumer Science is another option available to students that is somewhat familiar to their parents. Two teachers in this area, Angie Cox and Linda Mangus, recently won the Dibble Institute Award for teaching and evaluating a pilot curriculum. Only four teachers out of 1000 in the state were honored with the award.

Despite the great many choices available and the excellent standards these programs have achieved, Dwiggins still wants to improve them. She has a vision for the future.

She would like to see a student-based enterprise (a business students run inside the school) begun through some type of marketing class. Other schools usually choose something like a bookstore or a juice bar, but some have been so ambitious as to open a 7-11 right inside the school.

Her vision also includes a teacher internship program. This would operate like the ICE program except the student would not be paid and would only miss one class period a day. The ICE program currently consumes much more time than this, not only to the work environment, but to the business courses that are taught in conjunction with the work experience.

To the Family and Consumer Science area, Dwiggins hopes to add a food and fitness class. To Project Lead the Way, she hopes to add computer integrated manufacturing.

Her passion for the CTE programs is obvious, as she excitedly shares the possibilities for PHHS. She feels these down-to-earth courses are very valuable for the students.

“They are providing real-life skills, sometimes that’s a real life workplace skill and sometimes that’s a real life personal skill,” Dwiggins said. “So I think the students are better off having those classes just because they are getting real life skills. Everything we teach is such valuable skills.”

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