Why we need to protect, expand online CTE

Originally published in Centre Daily Times – December 7, 2019

As a kid, you naturally have a lot of competing interests. With “the world as your oyster” it’s so easy to imagine yourself in multiple roles with limited exposure, experience or early progress swaying you more heavily in one direction.

This is something I struggled with while I was in high school. I always enjoyed helping other people learn new things, so I always had an interest in teaching, but I also found the IT field really appealing. The latter is what initially focused on pursuing, earning an associate of applied science degree and shortly after going to work as a computer programmer.

Still, that deep-seated interest in spreading knowledge lingered. So, I went after it, and now I’m a computer programming instructor and graduate of Penn State’s Workforce Education and Development program.

I believe that policymakers and educators can – and certainly should – provide more opportunities for future students to explore their career interests. One way to do this is to expand the availability of online Career Technical education programs.

While my brick-and-mortar high school did offer CTE pathways, the options were limited and I know I would have benefited from having the option to enroll in an online CTE program. Instead of waiting until I got my diploma to start studying computer science, enrolling in an online CTE computer programming pathway would have allowed me to start taking relevant courses early, helping me earn college credit and workforce certifications. I could have potentially cut back on the time and money spent in postsecondary school – especially important here considering Pennsylvania grads have, on average, the second-highest amount of student debt in this country.

With CTE, students who may have multiple career interests can sample different industries in exploratory, introductory classes. If these don’t help them sort out their “yes” and “no” options, they can enroll in another for further insight, or engage in a work-based learning opportunity, perhaps a job shadow experience, to see what that field is like “in the real world.”

From these opportunities, there are two best-case outcomes: One, that students love what they see and establish a professional connection they can circle back on later; or two, that students aren’t sold and realize that a career in that field isn’t the best option for them. Both are wins.

Of course, not all schools have the resources to offer such programs. They may have financial limitations or run into difficulty presenting students with in-demand opportunities due to the employers in their immediate geographic location. That’s where technology comes in.

In our 21st-century world, offering kids opportunities for CTE doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. So many CTE pathways can be taught online now.

One benefit of online CTE programs is that students can learn at their own pace, as a supplement to their core education. This means that those students who are heavily involved in other inside- or outside-school activities can follow a more flexible learning schedule. Kids can still be kids.

Another benefit is that it can give students in rural parts of the state exposure to career fields and employers that may not have direct access to. Online CTE breaks down physical barriers and presents students with a broader array of options.

In addition to offering a broader array of career options to students, online CTE also presents educators like myself with more opportunities. Professionals in industry who may be interested in teaching are not limited to vo-tech schools within driving distance. With online CTE, they have the ability to share their wealth of knowledge as a virtual instructor with students across the state.

This is exactly how I was able to make my dream of teaching IT a reality, through online CTE. My hope is that policymakers and educators will realize and protect the immensely positive impact such programs can have on today’s students.

Benjamin Leskovansky is a Snow Shoe native and an instructor on the Information Technology (IT) pathway at the Insight Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, powered by K12, Inc. He is also head coach of the school’s esports team.

To learn more about Insight Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, visit https://pa.insightschools.net/

KEYWORDS: Career Readiness, Insight Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, Pennsylvania

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