CTE Month Site Visit at T.C. Williams High School

In celebration of Career Technical Education (CTE) Month, Advance CTE joined the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), representatives from the U.S. Department of Education, and others for a tour of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria City, Virginia. T.C. Williams currently has nine CTE programs students can enroll in: Health Sciences, Finance, Business & Information Technology, Family and Consumer Sciences, Health and Medical Sciences, JROTC, Marketing,Technology Education, and Trade & Industrial. There are dozens of pathways under each program that students can pursue such as automotive technology, cosmetology, early childhood education, business management and nursing.

The facilities for all nine of these programs are housed in various wings of the sprawling T.C. Williams campus, which makes it possible for learners to have a normal high school experience, but with even more value as they merely have to hustle from one end of the building to the next when the bell rings, versus taking a bus to another location. 

During our visit, we heard from a panel of students on the ways the CTE programs at T.C. Williams shaped their educational experience, gave them real-world work exposure and opened doors to career pathways they otherwise may not have considered or known about. Students expressed that because of CTE they have had the opportunity to take classes in different Career ClustersⓇ to explore their interests and find their passions. Others came to T.C. Williams with an idea of what they wanted to do and their participation in CTE helped them confirm those interests. 

Most notably, more than half of the students shared that they intend to pursue college after graduating high school, despite CTE’s common perception that CTE students do not go on to postsecondary education Many are already taking college courses through dual-enrollment opportunities. Students expressed that the dual-enrollment program, CTE courses and the real-world work experiences provided at T.C. Williams better prepares them for wherever life takes them. Some memorable quotes from students on the panel include: 

“Getting the dual-enrollment credit makes me feel better about the work that I’m doing.”

“The amazing thing is not just that you get college credit. You get advanced learning. Those students are getting prepared for a college environment.”

“You can take what you learn and apply it to the real-world which is a nice skill to have.”

We were able to see firsthand the engagement students had in CTE coursework. In their business management program, which the instructor calls a “mini MBA program,” students design their own business plan from beginning to end for products and services. They also run the school store where students can buy anything from supplies to T.C. Williams Titans paraphernalia. If that wasn’t enough, the campus is the location for one of the Commonwealth Credit Union branches. The bank is completely run by students in the finance program and students, teachers and staff can use this location for their basic banking needs. 

Students in the media production program get lots of real-world practice in writing, producing, filming and editing for their daily school newscast and other projects. The equipment is industry-standard technology purchased with funding from the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins IV).  

Alongside rigorous coursework and real-world learning experiences, learners are also deeply engaged in the community. We observed the culinary arts class cooking up a batch of vegetarian chili for that evening’s school board meeting and the cosmetology class pitched their brow waxing, hair coloring and other personal grooming services to our tour group as they are open to the public on Thursday afternoons! Many of the educators have taught these courses for more than a decade and came to teaching after a career in the field, bringing a wealth of industry knowledge with them The cosmetology instructor previously owned her own salon and one of the media production instructors worked on news programs in New York, both experiences that add value to the skills and lessons they impart on students.

Our half-day back in high school was inspiring and educational. Many thanks to the staff and students at T.C. Williams for showing off their impressive and meaningful CTE programs!

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate 

Sara Gassman, Senior Associate, Member Engagement and Professional Learning

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