As standards across the state of Kansas have evolved in recent years, taking a harder look at outcomes following students' high school education, the Newton High School Career and Technical Education program has continually answered the call in setting its students up for postsecondary success.
Reporting to the Newton Board of Education recently, CTE Director Melinda Rangel highlighted some of the positive trends within the program — like the continued addition of various pathways (with Teaching and Training being added this school year) and an increasing number of students earning professional certification, with those numbers jumping from 139 certifications in 2016-2017 to 442 last school year.
Most notably, though, Rangel pointed out the number of NHS students taking advantage of one-day job shadow opportunities (up from 183 to 224 last year) around the community— something she views as an extremely beneficial tool in helping students hone in on their career pursuits.
"I think that these are a great way for kids to see firsthand if this is something that they really want to do," Rangel said. "This is an opportunity that kids can do during their school day, it doesn't cost them anything and they can really get a better understanding of a career path."
For some students, job shadows can be a crystallizing moment providing evidence they are on the right path; for others, it reveals that they might need to consider shifting gears. Newton High School senior Kaitlyn Black falls into the latter group.
Having been on the agricultural pathway through most of high school, a job shadow experience gave Black some insight that such a profession was not for her and opened her up to exploring her options. Through a different such opportunity, Black came to gain a professional interest in law enforcement — leading to an internship with the Harvey County Sheriff's Office this school year.
Working at the sheriff's office (for an hour every other school day), Black helps with routine tasks like filing — either warrants that have already been served or booking packets, goes on ride-alongs to learn about standard procedures (i.e. traffic stops) from deputies and is rotating through the various departments, from dispatch to the detention center and more, to gain more knowledge about their inner workings.
Quickly, though Black entered the internship with the intent of pursuing a career adjacent to law enforcement (like working with the Department of Corrections), her professional interests have been shaped by her experiences in the sheriff's office — and the bonds she has formed.
"Even though I'm not a deputy, I don't work here, I do feel very much like a part of the family," Black said. "Lots of the deputies treat me like another deputy, and so it's nice to be able to come here and be able to feel like you belong."
Currently, Black said she plans to study psychology at the University of Kansas and seek a job with an investigative unit after college.
Black is taking a psychology class this semester, but she remains in the agricultural pathway with family studies and cooking classes — as there is no law enforcement pathway as part of the NHS CTE program. That could be changing soon, though, as Rangel noted interest has flagged that as the next pathway to target for expansion.
Over the past two years, Rangel pointed out law enforcement/public safety has been one of the top three most popular career fields in terms of job shadows — with four internships in law enforcement alone over the past two years. While the CTE program does feature state-required technical (i.e. Fire Science, First Aid/CPR, etc.) and application classes in that pathway, as well as a potential partner institution in Hutchinson Community College, she said the biggest obstacle remains finding a way to offer the introductory level class — Introduction to Law, Public Services and Security.
Getting that class — as well as a teacher — in place may be a challenge, but Rangel said the law enforcement/public safety pathway is still being pursued. In fact, the program was looking at adding that pathway this year, but a definite timeline for when that may come to fruition is unclear.
What is clear to Rangel and Black alike are the benefits the CTE program — and the work experiences like those in law enforcement/public safety — provides students preparing for college and beyond. Harvey County Sheriff Chad Gay is certainly for expanding that as well, as he sees not only the benefits for the students, but for his department as well.
"Encouraging kids to get involved in things that get them into the community, like law enforcement, is a huge deal to me," Gay said. "It's getting harder and harder finding people who want to get into law enforcement, so if I can bring a youngster in here and foster that with a kid, I'm all for it."