The Newton High School Career and Technical Education program had a special visitor Monday, as United States Assistant Secretary of Education Scott Stump made a stop in town to witness all the opportunities made available to local students.

In Wichita for a Workforce Innovation conference, Newton High School got some help from city manager Bob Myers, who invited Stump to tour the NHS CTE facilities. While on site, Stump heard about the CTE program's partnerships with Hutchinson Community College and other area school districts, as well as with local businesses and industries.

Stump also saw first-hand the work done by students in several different pathways — from the auto department to robotics to the new Ag Academy, and many more — including engine repair projects, learning about the struggles of programming a robot or hearing about the real-world experience earned (and promoted) by students in the Ag Academy.

Stump offered a job shadowing opportunity to one student who showed an interest in public policy and spoke to the importance of those efforts, especially as national trends continue to show a decrease in the number of high school students (one in three graduates) having significant work experience.

"Too many students leave high school with absolutely no idea of what they want to do and where they want to put their god-given talents to use. Programs like these allow students to test their ideas early on before going into the secondary experience," Stump said. "Whether a student continues on in the engineering program or not is not the end product, it is have they had the experience that better hones for them what they want to do, so that when they make that postsecondary step they're ready."

CTE director Blake Smith noted that is the goal in the Ag Academy — to get students out of the building and give them genuine work experiences in their senior year. Already this semester, there have been at least 150 job shadow requests among students in the Ag Academy.

Newton's CTE program currently offers 17 career pathways, which vary from manufacturing to engineering to health science. Students may receive free or discounted college credit for the courses they take in the program, while also receiving the opportunity to earn that hands-on work experience that Stump and program administration see as crucial.

Having seen numerous facilities across the country, Stump noted Newton's program stood out given the breadth of its offerings relative to the size of the community.

"For the size, this is — to me — an anomaly. Most of the smaller centers that are serving populations this size maybe only offer four, five or six of the different pathways," Stump said. "Taking the step with the Agriculture Career Academy is a bold one that many of the programs across the country don't have. I think school districts in general, as we enter the new era of connecting students with what's next and preparing them for what's next — not just college, but also career — we have to have more pathways like this."

With all that Stump saw on the tour, he noted he would have a good report to take back with him, and Newton CTE staff were grateful for the opportunity to broadcast the benefits of such a program on a bigger platform.

"It's an honor to have the assistant secretary of education here because there are a lot of impressive things happening at Newton High School. The more we can show that, the better it is for our programs and our students," Smith said. "The opportunity to show off our unique program, our unique way of doing things here in Newton really means a lot because we know how great our programs are here, but to get that national exposure really takes it to the next level."