Given that workforce needs are constantly changing, it makes sense that the Newton High School's Career and Technical Education Pathways program continues to evolve as well.
Since Melinda Rangel took over as CTE Director four years ago, she continues to address those changing needs based on both local industry and student interest — including the addition of the IT: Networking and Early Childhood Development and Services pathways, the latter being initiated this school year.
Part of the reason behind adding Early Childhood Development included the planned implementation of daycare services to meet the immediate needs of a portion of NHS students. The daycare idea was tabled this year (with the school bond issue on the upcoming ballot), but Rangel noted the plan is to follow the model set out by the Wichita school district — host a daycare center on site in conjunction with the YMCA, which would allow students to help staff the center and earn credit and professional development skills simultaneously.
"It would be an amazing opportunity to have the daycare here and kids be able to observe and interact with kids at that age, so we'll see," Rangel said.
Developing professional skills is a key focus of the program, Rangel said, noting in a recent report to the school board that career shadowing numbers continue to rise — something that helps direct students to the pathways and skills they want to pursue.
Additionally, the professions that students choose to shadow influence what new pathways might be explored in the future. Over the history of the program at NHS, that has come to include disciplines like Animal Science, Engineering and Applied Mathematics, Restaurant and Event Management and more.
Though some of those pathways have been established for several years, progress is always being made to push them (and the students enrolled) forward, whether by adding new classes, requiring continued training for teachers, upgrading equipment, etc.
For instance, some of the goals Rangel noted in the recent CTE report included adding classes like Baking and Pastry II and Culinary Arts II to the Restaurant and Event Management pathway in coming school years, while other classes (like web page design in the Marketing pathway) have been amended to count for college credit.
"We are always evolving, looking for ways to benefit our kids," Rangel said. "We're looking for how we can add value to our kids' education. Can they graduate from Newton High School with college credit already in hand?"
Currently, with two pathways classes (Computer Applications and Financial Management I) required for graduation, Rangel said there is nearly 100 percent participation by NHS students in at least one pathways class. Take those classes out of the equation and the number is still fairly high at 80 percent.
Of all that is offered through the pathways program, Rangel noted the career shadows may be the most impactful, which makes her grateful for the community support received. Numerous local businesses continue to offer such opportunities to students and Rangel noted, good or bad, they can shape students' futures — pointing to current KSN reporter and NHS grad Carly Willis as an example.
Having an interest in a career as a dietician, Rangel said she scheduled Willis for a career shadow at Newton Medical Center. By the time the career shadow was over, she had ruled out that potential profession and Rangel looked to set up an opportunity based on another of the former student's interests — communications. Willis immediately gravitated towards the career field and set her mind on pursuing that work professionally.
"A one-day shadow helped her work those career decisions for herself, and I could tell you 100 stories like that," Rangel said.
Maintaining the resources and equipment available in the classrooms remains key as well, according to Rangel, in order to continue the program's progress. Partnerships with area colleges continue to allow for more classes earning students early college credit, though Rangel said she also hopes students take advantage of the certifications that can be earned as well.
Whether in IT, welding, machining, etc., Rangel said she wants to see more NHS students graduating with professional certification — 139 did so in 2016 — in an effort to continue giving those students a leg up, no matter what comes next.
"It's what I know. It's what I believe in," Rangel said. "Career and Technical Education teaches students hand-on skills that prepare them for either college or a career."