WASILLA — Gov. Mike Dunleavy joined by Mat-Su Borough School District superintendent Dr. Monica Goyette, Department of Education and Early Learning Commissioner Michael Johnson, the Education Commission of the States, MSBSD Career and Technical program administrator Trish Zugg and Public Information officer Jillian Morrisey met at Mat-Su Career and Tech High Jan. 8, the leading school in a unique method of education. CTHS offers career and technical education similar to what would be considered vocational education.

Zugg describes CTE as, “a hands-on approach to learning that is geared towards technical skills attainment, a ready for work mentality.”

The MSBSD offers 37 different CTE programs ranging from courses to student organizations offering a variety of career pathways. CTHS guides its students toward a career by allowing them to chose one of eight pathways where they can earn certifications, college credit and skills for entry-level positions in their desired vocation.

CTE is growing in popularity across the Valley. Mark Okeson, the principal of CTHS, pointed out that the school is adding two portables for next year to accommodate the ever-increasing student body. This year, the construction pathway students and teacher built a portable giving them hands on work experience.

At CTHS, each student is selected through an application process where the student demonstrates their desire to pursue a goal past high school, whether it be entering the work force straight away or preparing for college. Each pathway mimics how a college major is designed, only the pathways are free for the students allowing them to explore different opportunities freely without breaking the bank or incurring debt.

The health pathway at CTHS is its most popular with the Certified Nursing Assistant program culminating many health pathway students’ experiences at CTHS. Students can earn their certification to become a Nursing Assistant through this course. Recently, the CNA program has been filled mostly by part time students whose home schools are not CTHS.

The MSBSD is looking to further opportunities for CTE courses for every student. After the 7.1 earthquake that deemed Houston Middle School unstable, the reconstruction of the building into the new Houston High School will incorporate a pathway model similar to CTHS’, but retain the typical high school characteristics by retaining their sports teams and not implementing an admissions process.

Demand is clear for more CTE courses in the Valley seen through the increasing student body at CTHS and the new HHS. Along with this growth, the Department of Labor and DEEL have been working along side industry leaders and educators to revise the work-based learning guide. WBL allows students to have actual work experience whether it be as immersive as apprenticeships or as simple as a tour of a business.

“I’d be great if all of our kids could get some experience in the work world before leaving,” Okeson said.

One of the main issues Okeson faces when it comes to WBL with his students is that many companies require students to be 18 years old to participate in company activities. He pointed out that only about half of the senior class is 18 years old, which means that few students will receive access to WBL opportunities.

“If we can get around that,” Okeson said, “I’d like to see all of our healthcare kids getting some rotations at the hospital.”

A possible work around with companies would allow schools to give credit for those students to learn by participating in the work force.

Anthony Jones is a senior at Mat-Su Career and Tech High School and a Frontiersman intern for the 2019-2020 school year.

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