CTE programs showcase graduating class, district efforts

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CLAY COUNTY – Do you need a hotel manager, electrician, pilot or sous chef? Clay County is forming them.

Since October, I’ve toured Career and Technical Education programs at the county’s seven public high schools. Touring the schools required a flurry of emails, pulling students out of class and putting tons of those visitor stickers on my chest.

Here’s what I saw:

Middleburg High fit a house in a classroom for their electrician students, Keystone Heights Junior-Senior High had a farm and Ridgeview had an actual daycare. I saw how Fleming Island High students threw a mock wedding, Clay High students practiced the culinary and veterinary arts (separately), and how Orange Park High is preparing the next generation of nurses and EMTs. In this week’s edition of the Clay Today, you also can read about Oakleaf High’s Aerospace Academy.

So, after all that, if there’s a common sentiment among myself and instructors about the Clay County School District’s CTE programs it’s: “I wish I had that when I was in school.”

There is no downside to investing in the students’ highly specialized classes. No federal or state politician has ever been against education, maybe the content, but not funding programs and students. Budgets, like Thomas Hobbes’ description of mid-17th century British lives, are “... nasty, brutish and short.” Short in the sense that the state education system could always use more funds and materials.

The local level is something different. From my CTE stories, the instructors and students have a strong rapport, established by time and a common passion for their craft. It’s kind of like watching Plato pass knowledge down to Aristotle or something less hyperbolic. They can trade jokes, but if the equipment is a centimeter out of place, you’d better believe the students will hear about it and adjust. In some cases, I’ve witnessed the students teach each other.

And the classes are rigorous. They’re earning real certifications used by real professionals. We know labor is at a premium. It’s a complex mix of factors I won’t go into other than everything from service workers, the news industry and high-level jobs like I’ve been writing about have been impacted.

For making the stories happen, teachers and principals, thank you. Students I spoke to – seniors who are figuring what on earth you’re going to do – the same goes to you. You only get to graduate a few times. Drink it in.

Now, I want to jump 1,600 miles almost due west past the bog of Interstate 10, a trio of southern states, wade four hours through traffic in Dallas, barren West Texas and limp into the Land of Enchantment, my home state of New Mexico. I’ve made the drive in 26 hours, eat your heart out Le Mans.

My sister is graduating from the same high school in the same arena as I did nearly a decade apart. She might be the most enlightened 18-year-old you ever talk to, but I suppose every brother would think similar. When I wrote these CTE stories, I thought of the millions of graduating students like my sister and those who I interviewed. That’s our next generation of teachers, medical professionals and agriculture technicians.

In the early 1990s, Manchester United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson discarded several veteran players to make room for “the Class of ‘92,” basically a group of local prodigies, which includes David Beckham. After the controversial move, an analyst said “You can’t win anything with kids.”

In England, that commentator is up there with people who doubted the TV, microwave and the internet. That group won more trophies than we have eyelashes. Means, the youth get a bad rap, but their potential is enormous.

I know it’s a few months away, but here’s to the class of 2022, Olivia. You guys will be fine.

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