Imagine a classroom full of eager students. They’re focused on their work. No horsing around. No talking. No cellphones. The only sound is the metallic clang of trowels striking brick, punctuated by the advice of their masonry mentor: “You’ll want to strike that down.”
Every day, these students get off the bus, grab their safety helmets, and instantly get to work doing what they love. “Isn’t that immediate focus what we want from every class out there?” asks Mac Beaton, who’s been the Director of Henrico’s CTE program for the past 20 years.
Thanks to the Henrico County Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education Program (CTE), students at high schools and middle schools across the county are honing the skills they need to launch rewarding careers in our community. These students explore everything from carpentry and landscaping to 3-D modeling and computer programming. The program is committed to helping students take the skills they learn in the classroom and apply them in the field.
Creating a strong pipeline of multi-faceted young talent is a great benefit to Henrico’s economy as many of these students go on to intern, apprentice, and work for local employers. And the CTE program is always expanding with incredible new opportunities and events. Currently, the program is in the planning stages of building two new technical centers at Hermitage and Highland Springs high schools. And, of course, there’s the recent celebration of their second annual Letter of Intent Signing Day.
Celebrating Signing Day
What is Signing Day? Each spring, high school students across America are celebrated for their acceptance into colleges and universities. Military-bound graduates in our state are honored for their commitment to service by the Blue Star Mothers of Virginia. And as part of the Enrolled or Enlisted or Employed Initiative, the leadership of Henrico CTE decided that students who are joining local businesses after graduation deserve recognition for their achievements and bright futures, as well.
After all, many of these workforce-ready students are entering into their first jobs with great pay, health insurance, retirement benefits, and continuing education opportunities provided by their employers. What’s not to celebrate?
Last year’s ceremony even captured the attention of “Dirty Jobs” TV host Mike Rowe. “It went beyond anything I ever imagined the Signing Day would be,” says Mac Beaton. “I’ve gotten a call from pretty much every state in the country and even Canada.”
This year, 110 students came together to celebrate their accomplishments on April 23. Signing Day marks the culmination of years of hard work. Not only has CTE been instrumental in getting these students to this point – it has strengthened the entire Henrico community.
Building on a Foundation for Success
One of the sustaining features of the CTE program is its House Building Construction Program. While the program as-a-whole is now working on house number 19, for each student who walks on site for the very first time, it’s a brand-new opportunity to apply the skills they’re learning in both their comprehensive and technical classes.
It takes approximately two years from start to finish to build one house, and almost 1,000 students per year are involved in every step of the process, from conceptual design to budget, IT, horticulture, and electrical installation. The house is then sold at market value. Work takes place for 12 months out of the year, plus a six-week exploratory summer program for middle-schoolers.
Philip Parker, President of the CTE Program and local civil engineer, says, “At the end of the day, when these students ride around their neighborhood and they see families with their kids playing in the yard … you can’t put a dollar value on that.”
Paving the Way for the Future
Listing all of the career fields taught through Henrico CTE
• Agriculture Food & Natural Resources
In addition to the House Building Construction Program, many students complete an internship or apprenticeship with Henrico companies, deepening the connection between local businesses and the community.
Mike Van Sickel, Vice President and Regional Manager of Branscome Richmond, knows the value of CTE firsthand. He’s found several apprentices through CTE, including Elijah Dunning, who graduated from CTE last year and is currently a freshman at Reynolds College.
Elijah’s work for the paving contractor has given him real industry experience and leadership skills. An apprenticeship isn’t just a boon for students like Elijah; businesses gain valuable workers who often go on to be hired full time.
“There’s a huge demand in our industry for young talent,” says Van Sickel. “The value of having someone like Elijah is that I get a lot of joy seeing him work with guys who’ve been here for 30+ years.” “I personally like to learn,” says Dunning. “And I love that my job is giving me opportunities to grow.”
CTE truly is a community effort. From the businesses that support young skilled workers to the students who give back to the Henrico community through the House Building Construction Program, Henrico’s CTE program plays a vital role in creating a sustainable pipeline of skilled workers.