School districts seek to expand career and technical education programs

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) — Eyewitness News surveyed all superintendents in Rhode Island ahead of the upcoming school year. Of all the responses we received, a common thread among them was career and technical education and the need to expand this work-based curriculum.

2019 superintendent surveys: What you should know about every school district in RI »

Career and technical education (CTE) is an alternative to a more traditional high school education. It’s designed with hands-on learning experiences to prepare students for technical careers such as manufacturing, computer science, engineering, and culinary.

Students can attend CTE programs at schools out of their district—all at no cost—like South Kingstown resident Hannah Conlon, who’s enrolled in Narragansett High School’s agricultural science program.

“It’s very interactive,” she said. “We go on campus and we look at the trees and study the plants and certain animals.”

Students in the program care for chickens and even sell the eggs, with the money going back into the program.

Conlon’s school schedule is a typical one, except there’s at least one class dedicated to the agriculture program. Her favorite so far is a floriculture class.

“For prom, we made 100 bouquets, and that was really cool because we got to give them out to the students,” Conlon said.

The class uses a greenhouse to grow an array of flowers and plants. They even gather their own maple syrup from trees on school grounds.

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In 2016, Gov. Gina Raimondo launched a Prepare RI initiative which supports career and technical education, aiming to close the skills gap between what students learn and what they need for high-demand jobs.

Students can even take courses for college credit.

“We are redesigning those experiences where students’ learning experiences are measured by more than test scores,” said Steve Osborn, chief for innovation at the Rhode Island Department of Education. “They are measured by clear credentials that either save the money on their college degree or help them get a job to be able to support themselves, so it’s relevant, it’s real, it has clear application.”

Companies provide internships to these students to give them real-world experiences as part of their curriculum.

In the superintendent survey, several districts including Cranston, Narragansett, and North Smithfield said they are looking to expand their CTE programs.

“We are looking to the future,” Narragansett High School Principal Daniel Warner said. “We are trying to provide opportunities for kids to find their niche and to grow.”

Only two districts in Rhode Island don’t offer CTE programs: Block Island and East Greenwich.

The R.I. Department of Education says it would like all high schools to offer these career pathway programs.

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