Parents of students in Wayne-Westland Community Schools often say that their child is a hands-on learner who thrives in project-based learning because it meets their needs to use their hands and their minds.
“We hear that a lot,” says Jennifer LaDuke, Ed.D., Principal and CTE Director at the William D. Ford Career-Technical Center (CTC) at Wayne-Westland Community Schools (WWCS). These parents recall their own school electives that introduced them to home ec, drafting and shop — programs that, because of changes in educational requirements, have largely disappeared, she explains.
Yet many students are highly motivated to learn welding, culinary arts, automotive technology, even firefighting. These are all skills they can master at the newly-renovated, 100,000 square foot state-of-the-art William D. Ford Career-Technical Center, home of 19 thriving career-technical education programs.
“This is the hands-on opportunity for students. Here, they can try a career-technical education (CTE) program and find out if it’s a good fit and pursue it further,” Dr. LaDuke says. “Students are fortunate to have access to the CTC because it’s a wonderful resource in our district.”
At a time when parents hear the wider societal message that four-year college is right for every student, Dr. LaDuke wants them to recognize that skilled trades are in high demand. “It’s a great opportunity for a great wage-earning career for their children,” she says. “We want everyone to know that there are tons of opportunities available right in high school for apprenticeships and on-the-job training.”
Here, Dr. LaDuke shares insight into why CTE programs at Wayne-Westland make so much sense for career- and college-minded students alike.
Breadth of programming
With 22 skill areas for students to select, including manufacturing, graphic design, health services, digital media, construction technology, automotive technology — and a lot more — students can train for future careers, many they can pursue directly after high school.
“One of my favorites is heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC,” Dr. LaDuke says. “I love all the programs, but we are the only school in the Wayne County region, not including Detroit, that has HVAC and offers it in such great depth for the students. We have air conditioning units in the classroom that they work on. The lab facility is phenomenal.”
Dozens of welding booths provide students with hands-on experience. “They are actually doing welding in high school, and building the ability and know-how to weld,” Dr. LaDuke says. This hands-on environment is mirrored throughout all the programming at the CTC. In the health occupations department, students practice skills on health mannequins and (pre-COVID) on each other, as they’d do in nursing school.
In graphic design, the students work on industry-standard software programs, and in auto collision, they sand, bond and paint vehicle parts. “They get to see it all and do it all from beginning to end, and they take their time to learn each part correctly and with skill,” Dr. LaDuke says.
Engaged from a young age
Students in WWCS and consortium schools — any student who is a Wayne County resident can attend schools in the district — begin visiting the CTC in eighth grade. “Our National Technical Honor Society students give the young students tours. They wear safety goggles and can hear and smell the environment, which really gives them a good taste for what it can offer,” Dr. LaDuke says.
During the first half of 10th grade, students can try out two programs of their choice. For instance, they can select culinary and immerse in a 20-minute project, then move on to digital media technology to create a quick film and begin editing. Then, they share their preferences with their counselor and make a program selection to begin their junior year.
Juniors and seniors spend time at the CTC in morning or afternoon “shifts” and spend the other half of their day at their home high school. “They spend up to three hours with us, so they are with the instructor for an extended period of time. They start each class with safety, which is our priority, and then they get to work,” Dr. LaDuke explains.
Focus on “non-traditional” roles
WWCS is intentional in its efforts to encourage female students to consider traditionally male-dominated industries, like welding and automotive technology, and that also applies to encouraging male students to pursue traditionally female-dominated fields.
“We are intentional with our marketing and flyers, especially with photos that depict males in health and women in welding, for example,” Dr. LaDuke says. A special populations coordinator connects with nontraditional students and a female auto service manager from the community speaks to students about what it’s like to work in a male-dominated field.
“We want students to know we are here for you and intentional about having you in these programs,” Dr. LaDuke says.
Career and college ready
Students who pursue CTE programs have many opportunities available to them. Some can directly enter the workforce, while others can go on to college with earned articulated credits they can apply to programs at a number of Michigan colleges. Or, students can do both, Dr. LaDuke says.
“You can do a CTE program, work for a few years, and then go to college. Or you can get your employer to pay for college. If you are very good at auto tech, they may pay for you to get that next certification, that next level of knowledge. Then, eventually, you may see yourself teaching others.”
All parents want their kids to be successful and independent, and sometimes that means they’ll make choices that are different from what they expect, Dr. LaDuke says. “Kids have awesome life experiences available to them and we are fortunate to be able to offer so many of these. We want parents and their students to know everything that is available to them.”
Learn more about Wayne-Westland Community Schools at wwcsd.net.