Philomath High's CTE program provides students with a variety of real-world work experiences. (Photo provided by Jessica Hanson/Philomath High School)

Philomath students have options when it comes to learning, growing and transitioning into life beyond high school.

Progression into a traditional postsecondary education at a four-year college or university remains for many students. Others after earning a diploma choose to go straight to work and some find joining the military to be a rewarding experience.

But perhaps the one area that has gained more interest than any other in recent years can be found in career and technical education. Despite its location in a town with fewer than 6,000 people and a high school with an enrollment that often dips below 400, Philomath offers a five-pronged CTE program with industrial engineering, forestry/natural resources, business management, culinary arts and health occupations all available to students.

“Not all students go to college and there’s a huge skills gap, too, right now, so just starting to have exposure for students to what careers are available to them is really important,” said Nick Traini, PHS manufacturing technology teacher. “A smaller percentage from what we’ve seen are going to college right now. But there are a lot of trades and if you look at the other end of that, there’s a high percentage of jobs needed with a low percentage of people in skilled labor to fill those jobs.”

Added Traini, “So, I think if students can start now deciding or just seeing what’s out there for them, it helps them decide what career path they want to go.”

Finding an interest in CTE courses doesn’t necessarily mean a student won’t pursue a four-year college degree and in fact often enhances that choice. But it does lead to other possibilities that are available at two-year schools, trade schools and vocational schools, not to mention on-the-job training programs that can lead to a high-paying career.

A student checks the oven during a culinary arts class. (Photo provided by Jessica Hanson/Philomath High School)

“In the past, a lot of kids during their senior year are deciding what they want to do and the train’s already left the station,” Traini said. “But if they’re exposed to it early on, I think that’s the biggest benefit. They’re seeing what career fields are available to them.”

A major component of a high school’s CTE programs is the relationships that are formed with outside entities — whether that’s a school or employer.

“A lot of companies are teaming up with a community college where they’re going to pay for your schooling and offer you a job when you’re done,” Traini said. “So if a student is interested in this kind of stuff (motioning toward welding equipment in his classroom) and it seems like the route to go because there’s no student debt and you’re starting out at like $20 an hour — that’s pretty good.”

Studies have shown that students learn in different ways — kinesthetic among them. Those are students who are best when they’re on the move working with their hands.

“That’s why our classes are so beneficial because it gives those students who can’t sit still at a desk all day the opportunity to work and learn hands-on in a different way that fits their style,” said Jessica Hanson, a family and consumer science teacher who this academic year became Philomath High’s first CTE coordinator. “I think it’s a lot more obvious to the students, too, about how CTE courses apply to the real world and their life. They make those connections more so than they might in a general ed class.”

Desktop publishing students get in some computer time last week. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Students’ perspectives on CTE benefits

Senior Tyler Moade has discovered a lot about himself through Philomath High’s CTE program. Moade said he’s pretty much taken all of Nicole Stueve’s business and technology classes from desktop publishing to graphic design. Currently, he’s in an advanced placement computer science class, plus, he’s involved in what is called the “Help Desk” — which is basically a job working with the school district’s tech department.

“It’s an internship-type thing and that actually led to a paid position this summer,” Moade said. “I got to work with computers and help update computers and prepare for school. It was a really good opportunity.”

Moade’s thinking about focusing on computer science, possibly at Oregon State University. But whatever he decides to do in the future, he’s had positive experiences through Philomath High’s CTE program.

“A lot of these classes are project-based and allow you to bring in your own creativity and your own ideas and apply the skills you’re learning in ways that are interesting to you,” Moade said. “And that helps me engage more because it allows me to focus on what I like.”

Juniors Madison Juhl and Xavier Hins are two more students who are enjoying what CTE adds to their classroom options.

“My favorites are probably the manufacturing technology classes,” Juhl said. “I really like working with my hands and it’s a way that I can do that and still learn a lot of useful skills. It’s easier to pick up things than to just write notes and expect to memorize them.”

Anatomy students work in the classroom. (Photo provided by Jessica Hanson/Philomath High School)

Juhl’s starting to get an idea of what direction she may want to go after high school.

“I’ve thought about maybe going into manufacturing a little bit and maybe becoming a shop teacher,” Juhl said. “But I’m not quite sure yet. … I do like to work, like I really like this, so I was thinking about doing some fabrication work.”

Hins, who has been into web design, works as an instructional aide for Stueve, something that he’s found enjoyable.

“I’ve been able to help students understand the material more and I’ve been helping the teacher with grading,” Hins said. “I guess it’s kind of just been a thing I’ve been interested in — coding. I’m not really sure if I’ll really pursue it as a career but I’m interested in it.”

Hins may go in the direction of electrical or mechanical engineering.

“Each program has its own pathway of courses. … They’ll be a program completer when they take three of the credits within that course,” Hanson explained about the CTE options. “Each of the five programs will have their own pathway and we have lots of students that will take multiple classes within multiple programs.”

Valuable partnerships with higher education

A program called College Now offers students an opportunity to earn college credits while learning on the PHS campus. For example, there are classes available through Linn-Benton Community College in culinary arts, health occupations, machine tool, computer science and manufacturing technology. A number of calculus classes are also available to students.

The College Now classes, which are free to students, are taught by LBCC-approved teachers on the PHS campus.

In addition, Philomath High’s forestry/natural resources program partners with Central Oregon Community College to offer courses.

Health occupations is one of the CTE program’s five areas of study. (Photo provided by Jessica Hanson/Philomath High School)

“Every department offers college credit in some form or another with LBCC or COCC,” Hanson said.

Philomath High’s CTE programs are continually on the lookout to expand or upgrade its offerings to students. Just recently, for example, Traini received high-tech welding simulators and the health occupations program has new manikins to aid with that type of learning. The educators also now have clear touch boards to support their teaching.

Those needs change from year to year and are often connected to grant opportunities.

It all adds up to options for the students. The high school right now has juniors and seniors serving in internships, Traini said, and working in the field. He speaks with pride about student stories of success.

“We actually have a graduate from our program who is now working as a machinist — he got his two-year degree as a machinist apprentice in Corvallis,” Traini said. “It’s cool to see kids starting here and because of this program and the industry that took them on to help them decide that ‘this is what I want to do’ and now they’re doing it. It’s cool to see it go full circle.”

The PHS forestry program has developed a strong reputation of excellence dating back many years. (Photo provided by Jessica Hanson/Philomath High School)

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.