Allentown Economic Development Corporation

Monthly Archives: September 2018

Exposing school teachers to today’s vo-tech career and education options

The news is out about current and projected labor shortages for manufacturing careers, and the Lehigh Valley is no exception. The need to train and educate the next generation of machinists, welders and mechatronics technician continues to grow every year.

But to get today’s students interested in those careers they need an awareness of them first. Knowing the important role that educators play in influencing a student’s career path, and the fact that some of the teachers are unfamiliar with today’s technical careers, it was time for a re-education of sorts. So a local school district and the vocational-technical school decided to partner on a new one-day program that brought teachers into the technical school’s classroom.

It’s not your father’s vo-tech school

Pen Argyl Area School District is one of five sending school districts to Career Institute of Technology in Easton. Others include Wilson, Easton, Bangor and Nazareth school districts.

Pen Argyl together with CIT took advantage of a teacher in-service day before the school year formally started and used it as a professional development day. About 120 kindergarten through 12thgrade teachers along with guidance counselors from the district’s elementary, middle and high schools attended the first-time program at CIT. Its goal was to provide them with an updated view on today’s careers and to empower them to in turn educate their students about them as career possibilities.

The concept for the event was a team effort including Pen Argyl Area School District Assistant Superintendent Dr. Margaret Petit, Pen Argyl High School Principal Dave Domchek, and CIT Supervisor of Career and Technical Education Eric Kahler.

“The goal of the visit was in part to re-educate the schools’ educators, as well as to build a better relationship with them,” said Kahler. “We estimate that more than half of the district’s teachers had never been to CIT or had not been there in a long time. And vocational-technical education is very different today than what it was like when people my age were in school 20 or 30 years ago.”

During breakout sessions, attendees were divided into groups based on what departments they work in, and each group met with three CIT teachers from three different trade programs. Groups moved in a round-robin format onto the next teacher every 30 minutes. CIT teachers had an opportunity to educate and inform about the goals of their program, what students are taught, what they get to experience, and more. They also discussed what kind of training students would need for different technical career paths, and how the district’s teachers could help prepare them.

In the end, everyone regrouped in the technical school’s cafeteria for a debrief to discuss what they learned and to share their experiences.

Joint learning experiences help students

“One thing that they learned was that more than 50 percent of vo-tech students go on to a post-secondary education either at a trade school or college. Many were surprised to hear that,” said Kahler. “Many of the educators expressed an interest in discovering how they could develop the skill sets that are needed for these technical careers into the education practices with students.”

“The feedback we received from many of our teachers was incredible,” said Principal Domchek. “They saw that CIT does a wonderful job of preparing the students with what they need to know for their chosen career path. I think it helped our teachers to realize that technical careers are a wonderful career avenue for kids, and it helped them also see how they can support their students in figuring out their career paths earlier so they can be better prepared.”

“I think the stigma that vo-tech has endured for many years is finally starting to wear off,” he continued. “College is not a good fit for every kid. Some are just more hands-on and need a career that allows them to do that. But they need the right training for it from the beginning. We want to help them find what they are passionate about and then motivate and encourage them to pursue it. CIT is a valuable asset to our community and I am proud that we send 70 of our district’s more than 500 students to it.”

“Manufacturing is our second largest industry by gross domestic product and 3rd largest employer in the Lehigh Valley,” said Karianne Gelinas, Director of Talent Supply for Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. “Manufacturing is not an industry of the past with defunct, physically strenuous jobs. Rather, modern-day manufacturing requires increasingly technical expertise to troubleshoot and maintain machinery and produce products. Offering an opportunity for student influencers, such as school staff and family members, to learn about these jobs of today and tomorrow, and the pathways of how to get there, not only benefits students on an individual basis but also the Lehigh Valley in terms of raising our level of competitiveness as a regional economy.”

Expanding the program to other districts

While Domchek says it’s too soon to determine if this will become an annual professional development day for his district, he does encourage other Lehigh Valley school districts to partner with their respective career and technical schools for professional development days like they did.

“It had a powerful impact on our educators and I think everyone was surprised and impressed with the technical components of the programs being taught at CIT,” said Domchek. “Now our teachers can help their students connect the dots in their own education based on what technical career they are interested in. If a student says that it doesn’t matter if they learn math since they aren’t attending college and are instead going to attend vo-tech, the teacher can now explain why math skills are necessary for a technical career and how he or she will use them.”

Teachers excited about lessons learned from CIT visit

Stemming the loss of trained technicians in the manufacturing industry by introducing a new generation to trade careers is what recently motivated Pen Argyl Area School District to partner with the Career Institute of Technology in Easton on a new one-day program at the start of this 2018-2019 school year.

Teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade along with guidance counselors visited the vocational-technical school during a professional development in-service day for a tour, to meet with CIT teachers, and to learn about the curriculum and career opportunities.

For many of them who had not stepped foot in the school ever or in a very long time, it was an opportunity to be re-educated about what modern technical careers are like, including those in manufacturing.

We asked teachers from CIT as well as the school district to share their impressions of the program with us and tell us what they learned from each other.

Chad Feilbach, CIT Welding Technology Instructor

  • I couldn’t be more impressed with the Pen Argyl staff’s enthusiasm and motivation to learn about CIT. They were respectful and eager to ask great questions about our school. Most notably, the teachers and guidance counselors were impressed with the high academic standards that our students are held to at CIT. The staff were surprised to find out that the welding students are trained in measuring, geometry, algebra, and trigonometry.
  • This event allowed the Pen Argyl staff to receive a visual understanding of what CIT has to offer. They were able to see the cutting-edge technology of each program they visited. This experience allows counselors and teachers to better advocate specific programs at CIT that would best fit the interested student. The staff members will also be able to better explain the broad range of benefits at CIT to parents and guardians.
  • There was an immediate respect and rapport for all of the educators involved with this meeting. Pen Argyl School District showed a willingness to learn about other educational avenues available for students. Although the approach is different, both educational facilities share the mindset that a student’s success is an ultimate goal. As educators it is our responsibility to help the student’s decide what method to use to ensure that success.

Dorothy Lindblad, CIT Teacher of Early Childhood Education

  • Having the Pen Argyl teachers visit our classrooms gave us the opportunity to clarify what our school offers in our partnership with them. Our goals are the same – to prepare students for successful futures after high school. Each student has unique strengths and weaknesses, and we must work together to help them clarify how they can find fulfilling careers that use those strengths.
  • Most people don’t have enough knowledge about what we really do at CIT. Career and Tech Education is not the old vo-tech that people remember from when they were in high school. The PA Department of Education has put into place very strict guidelines about our curriculum and programs and the classes are quite rigorous.
  • Many of the teachers did not know that we have articulation agreements with colleges and universities which allow students to earn college credit for many of our courses. Many were surprised that CIT teachers are required to integrate higher level math and literacy skills within our courses. In fact, using these skills in real work situations drives home the importance of gaining math and literacy skills. One example would be learning fractions in order to correctly cut a length of wood for our house project. If it’s not measured correctly, there is a real-world consequence that it won’t fit.

Catherine Novello – Pen Argyl High School Teacher

  • It allowed teachers to learn about the programs available to students as well as the skills required for students to succeed. It was very helpful to meet with the CIT instructors to learn about the trades. Clearly students need academic and interpersonal skills to succeed in technical careers. And for some students who may not excel in a traditional classroom, exposure to technical careers may provide an alternative and a motivating force.
  • I learned that there are many academic skills that students must master to succeed in manufacturing, specifically math and science. Also, students who aspire to own their own businesses must develop interpersonal and business skills. Lastly, manufacturing is an evolving field. For example, in the electrical shop we learned about renewable energy sources.
  • The program was excellent. It provided me with the necessary information to encourage and support students who choose this path. It also made me realize how challenging the programs are and the diversity of skills required to succeed. Many of the shops have a lot in common with topics we teach – energy sources, interpersonal skills, business ownership, and working with diverse populations.

Tracey O’Connell – Plainfield Elementary School Teacher, Pen Argyl School District

  • I am an elementary teacher and even at our level children need to understand the value of a career path outside of the usual college track. Our society is changing and opportunities for careers in alternative fields such as mechanics, health and wellness, machining, and technology are the wave of the future. I learned that the need for these positions is in high demand currently, and the opportunity to earn a good income exceeds what I originally thought. Not all children want to go to college and they need to know what other careers are available that pique their interest. College is not the only way to go. There are so many more opportunities for young adults.
  • I absolutely loved the format of the event. Getting a taste of what the students experience provided me with insight for what our children will need as they move through their educational journey. I often hear from students: “Why do I need to learn this when I won’t need it?” I am the math support teacher for kindergarten through third grade and to be able to explain to them that basic math is needed for everything from painting a car and fixing computers, to programming and gaming (which is often a field they want to go into), or building a dwelling or structure makes learning those facts and problem solving closer to their world.
  • Being aware of the different career paths opened up a new perspective for me. It makes me think outside of the box. I came from the 1980-1990’s era where college was the way to go. Now, that is no longer the only option. I loved learning about the different trades that CIT offers. I was in awe as to how many opportunities are out there.

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