When I became the principal of West Craven High School, a rural school in North Carolina, I realized that only 30 percent of my students attended college after graduation. As a principal, I’m concerned with every student’s success after graduation, and an uncertain future for 70 percent of them concerned me and my staff. As a result, we made the career and college promise a reality.

We adopted the career academy model, where students who follow a prescribed career and technical education (CTE) course load of their choosing earn the opportunity to participate in an internship, apprenticeship, job shadowing, or employment in a career field. Upon completion, each student will receive an industry certification to be used after graduation.

Creating Career Tracks

Every student is required to take our career management course, which explores various career options and fortifies their knowledge of soft skills. During their freshman and sophomore years, students take the bulk of their state-required courses in English, math, social studies, and science. This allows their schedule to accommodate an internship during the second semester of their senior year.

Each student must declare a career track by the end of their sophomore year so they can be scheduled in CTE courses. Our tracks provide a variety of opportunities, including animal science, culinary arts and hospitality, carpentry, drone technology, advanced manufacturing, mechatronics, welding, nursing, firefighting, ROTC, theater arts, French and Spanish, computer science, and Adobe software.

Fire Fighter Technology III students learn how to advance a fire.

Upon successful completion of their career track, students receive one of the following industry certifications: veterinarian assistant, ServSafe, pilot, welding, carpentry, certified nursing assistant, firefighter’s license (after burn test), interpreter’s license, and IT license, just to name a few. Those who enter the military are declared an E3 in their respective service after completion of basic training. Some of the aforementioned certifications require students to take additional courses at Craven Community College, but through a partnership secured earlier this year, our students will transition seamlessly without the requirement of the college application process. This collaboration with a postsecondary institution represents the true meaning of community partnership in the development of our future workforce.

Developing Human Capital

Tabari Wallace, principal of West Craven High School

We created these career tracks by streamlining CTE course offerings already established at our school and asked for no additional money or staffing to make this a reality. Instead of students just taking electives, we make these courses count and reward them with certifications that have value in the job market. Our college-bound students are assigned to the AVID track, where we teach them writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading strategies complemented by other skills that better prepare them for life as a college student.

All students in a specific track are assigned a homeroom together and meet once a week. There, they receive career and college guidance from a team of core and CTE teachers.

We also have a Career Academy Business Advisory Panel made up of local businesses that assist us with internships and supplemental courses required for employment at their sites. These businesses were eager to partner with us when they discovered they had a say in their future human capital.

In this age of focused equity in education, we made each elective meaningful and ensured that every child is afforded the opportunity to succeed after graduation. The career academy model is the structure of the future.

Tabari Wallace is the principal of West Craven High School in Vanceboro, NC. He is the 2019 North Carolina State Principal of the Year, and a member of the Craven Community College Board of Trustees, (appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper), the New Bern Redevelopment Commission, Professional Educator Preparation & Standards Commission (NC State Legislature appointed), and the Principal Standards Commission. He is an NC State Board of Education Adviser and a doctoral candidate at East Carolina University. Follow him on Facebook (Tabari Wallace) or Twitter (@TabariWallace).

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