Lee County School District last month showed off its new $8 million Career and Technical Education Center, a state-of-the-art facility that houses several tracts for students who want to start specializing their studies.
From drones to culinary arts to health science, Lee County students will have opportunities to work in a setting unlike anything available to them before. Instead of teachers rotating through schools, students will now come to the CTE facility at The Hive business park. Industrial kitchens, top-of-the-line drones and real-life medical settings are all part of the learning experience.
What Lee County has done mirrors what Tupelo Public Schools offer, and it is part of a growing trend in education. In many ways, what we are seeing is a return to the way things used to be in our schools. VoTechs were commonplace for many years, until education systems across the country started putting more and more emphasis on college preparatory tracts instead of career-readiness and technological training.
Now the pendulum is starting to swing back the other way, hopefully not overcorrecting and instead finding a resting point where public schools are set up to offer various pathways for students instead of herding students toward a path that might not be in their best interest.
This is not to say a college education is unimportant. In many cases, a college degree is still an invaluable educational achievement for people. But that might be a two-year associate’s degree versus a four-year bachelor’s degree, or it might be that having the specialized education path in high school gives students a leg up in their preferred collegiate studies.
Nevertheless, the college route is not the only one to success, wealth and well being. And without programs like those in Lee County and Tupelo schools, too many of our young people are leaving high school without the practical skills that translate into career-level positions.
As what was old becomes new again, we should learn from the missteps of the past. VoTechs became an undervalued part of the educational system, largely because so much emphasis was put on a student’s ability to get into college. Those choosing another route — either based on their professional preference or their life situation — were often looked down upon for taking what some considered a lesser post-high school route. That was never true, and it certainly isn’t true today. Skilled workers have always been in high demand, and jobs are generally plentiful.
But career tech programs have also evolved greatly from the past. Culinary offerings today, for instance, are aimed at those who are interested in a profession in food services. This isn’t the cooking class of old that taught students how to bake.
Technology-based programs such as engineering, drones and coding are also part of these offerings. As technology expands and changes what skilled workers look like in the future, programs such as these will better equip our young people with the appropriate skills to succeed.
That our local schools continue to make these investments is encouraging. And we hope parents and students will take advantage of what can be life-changing opportunities.