Building multiple pathways to careers

High school students no longer have to choose between a purely academic college-prep track or a career path. Students can use both skill sets to become college and career ready. Today, career and technical education (CTE) means hands-on, practical learning, college credits and industry certifications.

"Career exploration begins in middle school through exploratory and introductory CTE courses," said Toni Hall, a district CTE information technology curriculum and instruction coordinator. "They continue in high school but the difference this year is the courses are now sequenced in concentrated pathways."

CTE pathways are a sequence of four to six elective courses within a student's career interest. Each school chooses the options it wants to offer and tailors them to their students' needs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools currently offers 19 pathways ranging from advanced manufacturing and engineering to public safety. Targeted career training allows students to pursue their interests and to leave high school with more than just an academic diploma.

A popular track at Hopewell High School is also one of the newest — graphic and digital design. Students learn the principles of visual

communications, typography and video while using professional-grade Adobe design software to create digital drawings, logos, advertisements, magazine layouts and video. Students who successfully complete the track receive Adobe certification. Mastering skills like these can help students get good jobs with higher-paying wages, apply for high quality internships, prepare for two- or four-year colleges or take the next level of certification.  

Ninth-grader Megan Shotwell enrolled in the pathway because she likes to write stories and create book covers when she finds herself getting writer's block. She was using Canva, a free graphic-design tool website to design them. When she found out her school was offering courses that included Photoshop, a professional image-editing software used in photography, design, web and 3D projects, she enrolled.

"I wanted to produce better quality book covers," said Megan. "I want to be a therapist but I can see myself also being an author. The things I am learning about design will be helpful."

The school's CTE coordinator, Julie Gayheart, said 40 students have already been Adobe certified.

"The offerings give students a potential route for their future," said Gayheart. "We have some students who complete more than one track such as engineering and health sciences. If they are able to fit it into their schedules, we encourage it."

Gray Sielsky, an 11th-grader, enrolled in the advanced manufacturing and engineering courses his freshman and sophomore years. The moment he found out graphics was an option, he switched.

"I have always liked drawing so engineering seemed like a good fit. I did well in the classes but there was a lot of math and I'm more creative," he said. "I want a career in animation so graphic and digital design is a better fit and a good foundation. Its art and technology combined."

CTE Adobe Instructor Aaron Freeman teaches the visual and digital design courses. Freeman, who has a graphic design degree, still uses his skills outside of the classroom. He has clients and businesses he works with on various projects.

"I'm proof that a course of study can lead you in many directions," said Freeman. "Even if my students don't use what they are learning to go into graphic design, it can be incorporated into another career path, become a hobby or be used as a backup." 

Pathways include:
• Advanced manufacturing and engineering • Architecture and 3D prototyping • Biomedical and health science • Carpentry • Computer engineering • Software development • Automotive • Business management • Cosmetology • Culinary and hospitality • Environmental sustainability and landscaping • Fashion design • Food science • Game art design • Graphic and digital design • Interior design • Marketing • Public safety