Mary Henderson, a city school staff member gets a manicure from… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
Students at Baltimore's city school headquarters showcased their work force-ready skills Wednesday, offering manicures, health screenings and surgical preparations for city officials and school leaders.
The demonstrations came as the school system launched "National Career and Technology Education Month," part of a nationwide recognition of high school career-preparation programs that serve as pathways to the work force or supplemental training for future college degrees.
As Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake proclaimed Baltimore's observance of the month, city schools CEO Andrés Alonso headed to Washington to discuss a report published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which advocates more emphasis on career preparation as early as middle school, rather than presenting college as the only path to success.
Alonso outlined how in Baltimore, career concentrations have quietly emerged as an alternative to Advanced Placement courses, which are intended to provide college-level courses to high school students.
Since 2008, the number of career-preparation programs offered in the city has jumped by 51 percent, Alonso said, while the number of students participating in them has increased by 39 percent — to more than 6,200. The programs have become more rigorous, Alonso said, screening out students who may not benefit from them.
While the Harvard report drew criticism for pitting career tracks against college tracks, Alonso said he told others at the conference "that in the communities I serve, the parents are not asking about tracks, they are asking about their kids' readiness to do well in the real world."
Baltimore's career technology education, or CTE, programs represent dozens of fields, including health, biosciences, hospitality and cosmetology. City students who successfully complete CTE programs receive trade certifications in addition to their high-school diplomas upon graduation, and enter the work world with advantages that have traditionally been reserved for graduates of vocational schools.
Sabinah Ilori, a senior at Patterson Park High School, had that in mind when she decided to train to become a nail technician in the school's CTE program two years ago.
Ilori's curiosity and desire to "just be creative" drew her to the trade, the 17-year-old said as she carefully manicured the cuticles of school psychologist Mary Henderson on Tuesday. While Ilori wants to study communications and public relations, she can add nail technician to her college resume. She was certified in October.
"I have more to offer now," Ilori said. "I can say, 'I may be young, but I have experience.' This program was just a great opportunity. It's a demanding world out there, and you need to go for all of them."
Students who are drawn to career technology preparation might include those who can't afford college but still desire to be trained in high-paying jobs, as well as those who simply want to gain additional skills, said Michael Thomas, director of the school system's career and technology programs. The students have to maintain their high-school curriculum as well, though their programs are often embedded in their coursework.
Thomas said city students who participate in the programs have better attendance and score higher on state assessments. The graduation rate for students with career and technology concentrations is 99 percent.
The outcomes for programs around the state are similar, said Katherine Oliver, who oversees the state's division of career and college readiness. State data showed that students who participate in career and technology programs have higher grade-point averages in college, and are less likely to drop out of their first year of college, she said.
Rashard Spruell and Fannie Royster, both juniors at Edmondson-Westside High School, know they have years of college ahead of them before they become medical examiners, but said Monday they were grateful for the head start.
Both students are in Edmondson's surgical technician program and hope to impress when they go to college.
As Spruell demonstrated how to set up for a laparoscopic surgery, he said he was looking forward to being ahead of the game in receiving his diploma and certification as a surgical technician when he graduates.
"It's like killing two birds with one stone," Spruell said. "It's good knowing that when we get to where we want to be, we'll know the basics."