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That may well depend on which day you go! Many vocational programs are part of a student’s daily schedule, with one or two periods devoted to hands-on, project-based classes. Other schools may have off-campus training sites where students spend chunks of time learning and honing vocational skills.
Other vocational high schools might alternate weeks between academic and vocational instruction. In an academic week, you will find students in the classroom much like any high school. Students are responsible for passing the state’s high-stakes tests — and with a one-week-on/one-week-off schedule, they are doing it with half the classroom time. During a vocational week, students are at work learning their trade.
Typically, schools will have a variety of “shops” or specialty programs to choose from, usually a dozen or more, that take place in working replicas of what students will find at a work site. In some cases, shops are actual, off-campus job sites. Some examples include electrical wiring, health technology, cosmetology, graphic communication, auto repair, plumbing, information technology, dental assistance, and culinary arts. Plumbers hook up toilets and hot water in a fully framed “house,” accounting students balance books in a computer lab, culinary students train in a professional kitchen, while cosmetology students cut and color hair in a fully equipped salon. Schools in rural areas may have agricultural work sites as well.
No matter how they’re set up, vocational programs typically have extracurricular student clubs called CTSOs (Career and Technical Student Organizations) that students may join. These academic and social outlets allow students to use the skills they’re learning in various ways, such as entering competitions, attending conferences, and socializing with students with similar interests. Kids in business programs might join their school’s Future Business Leaders of America club and do mock PowerPoint presentations. Students in the Future Educators Association might create energy-themed lesson plans, practice filling out job applications, or give an impromptu lecture. It’s a wonderful way for your child to meet people and see how they might apply their vocational skills after graduation.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a vocational school.
Why spend (or borrow) thousands of dollars for a two- or four-year college education when students can learn a trade, graduate, and start earning top dollar years before their college-going classmates? If they’re good, vocational high schools offer career guidance, job placement, and try to give students a leg up in the job market. Public vocational schools may also offer — free of charge — professional training without having to go to a postsecondary vocational school.
Vocational schools offer a limited educational experience and track students into a trade rather than exposing them to the world of ideas. If students decide to go to a four-year college, they won’t be academically prepared to compete with traditional high school graduates. As with any career choice, it’s important to research the future prospects. Make sure the particular vocational skills your child is learning will have value in the short term and over the next few decades.
Don’t write off CTE schools if you haven’t seen one lately. Spend time in your local school and see the variety of training and the level of skills the graduating students have. Vocational schools offer up-to-date training as well as strong academic instruction that can have students either on a college-to-career track or in the working world years ahead of their classmates. As always, don't take anyone's word for it that a school is great: visit any school you are considering for your child to see it for yourself.
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