Claire Novin took her first construction course in the second semester of her junior year. She was “a little late to the game,” as she described it but still managed to fit in an apprenticeship and graduate from the architecture, construction and engineering academy at Kimberly High School.
She may feel she was late to start her construction coursework, but Novin earned enough dual credit that she’ll be able to complete her time at Fox Valley Technical College in 2½ semesters rather than four.
And at 18 years old, she already has two years of field experience.
“Me, personally, I like to be ahead of the game,” Novin said.
Novin’s path is just one example of how high school students in Kimberly and across the Fox Valley are using career and technical education classes to efficiently experiment with future jobs and even earn some college credit.
Career and technical education, or CTE, is an umbrella term for classes, apprenticeships and other career-based learning opportunities that allow high school students to explore different industries. It includes opportunities such as welding, electric, early childhood and health care.
Less than 10 years ago, Kimberly High School remodeled its construction lab to create more classrooms, working spaces and bathrooms for female students. Interest in these classes has continued to grow, so another expansion is already in the works.
In late September, the Kimberly School Board approved a $312,000 project to add 3,120 square feet to the construction lab behind the main school building. The additional space will create some breathing room for the welding and construction classes that are quickly running out of space.
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This school year, there were about 1,400 requests across all career and technical education classes at Kimberly High School — everything from culinary to a construction course called “Around the House” that teaches students basic home repairs.
The 1,400 requests don’t shake out to 1,400 students, since one student could request multiple CTE courses, but Principal Jackie DePeau said that’s “a lot” of requests. Zooming in on construction-related courses, there were over 460 requests this school year compared with just under 200 in 2012.
“(That) is sort of the landscape that we’ve been laying the groundwork for a number of years with our K-12 partners,” said Mary Hansen, director of K-12 partnerships for Fox Valley Tech.
During the 2021-22 school year, hundreds of students enrolled in dual credit courses, earning both high school and college credit for no additional cost through Fox Valley Tech. Dual credit courses cover a variety of subjects, including medical terminology, math and more. Some courses may have small fees for materials, but there is no charge for the dual credit courses themselves.
More than 430 Kimberly students were enrolled in dual credit courses, which equates to almost $235,000 in tuition, according to data provided by Hansen. Hortonville and Neenah saw similar numbers. Kaukauna had over 600 students enrolled in dual credit courses, equating to more than $406,000 in tuition savings.
“Dual credit is just a common language now in high schools,” Hansen said.
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From construction to culinary, students are more interested in career-ready courses
Steve Masanz, who teaches construction courses at Kimberly High School, said it should take about two years to complete the expansion. The plan should break ground this fall once the school receives the required permits.
As he tells his students, “We don’t go to the classroom. We build it.”
There will be help from some local contractors, but the vast majority of the Kimberly addition will be built by students during school hours. Having students complete the project cuts the estimated cost in half, Masanz explained.
Kimberly isn’t alone in increased interest in career and technical education courses.
Between last school year and this one, there has been growth in family and consumer science courses at the Menasha Joint School District, said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Shelly Daun.
The growth is due, in large part, to the district working with Fox Valley Tech and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to develop pathways for students interested in culinary and education.
“Course demand has increased drastically,” Daun said.
While the culinary and education pathways have driven most of the increase, there are also family and consumer science courses in interior design, fashion design and child development.
To accommodate the increased demand, two new full-time employees were added to the family and consumer science team, taking it from just one teacher to three.
Daun said finding teachers for these courses can be a challenge. Difficulty finding teachers for technical education and family and consumer sciences courses can lessen the courses the district is able to offer, she added.
Fox Valley Tech has been a big help with that, Daun said, but even the technical college runs into trouble finding teachers since many people in these fields choose to keep working in the industry rather than teaching it to students.
Along with increased staff, Menasha remodeled the culinary room and added more cooking stations in the high school over the summer. The district’s buildings and grounds staff worked with Fox Valley Tech to create a space that would provide students with a similar experience to taking the courses as they would at the technical college.
DePeau said Kimberly has been intentional about exposing students to all potential post-grad pathways, including two- and four-year schooling, military service and going straight into the workforce.
In their first two years, students listen to presentations from hundreds of guest speakers for each of the four general pathways.
Masanz said he’s noticed a “stigma shift” around students pursuing career and technical education with the hopes of going straight into the workforce after graduation. He finds more parents asking him about it and that students are aware of the job opportunities and income potential.