Vote “Yes” to prepare students for the workforce and keep them safe

As a veteran teacher at Union County Vocational-Technical High School (UC Tech), I see the value of career and technical education every day: It prepares students for careers and for college, and gives them real-world skills for success after high school.

Schools like UC Tech and the other specialized high schools in the Union County Vocational-Technical School District are in high demand because many students—and their parents—want more out of high school than just college readiness.

Our students get to pursue their passions, such as culinary arts, health sciences, engineering, dance, auto technology, construction trades and even teaching.

Students in the Teacher Education Academy program that I lead earn college credits and sit for the CORE Praxis exam in their junior year. Like all other students at UC Tech, they have structured learning experiences with industry partners so they can apply their CTE preparation and get a real-world look at the career they have been investigating for three years.

No textbook alone could ever teach these skills, and only in CTE can the student achieve a full circle of a technical skills education. That’s really important these days. Thanks to social media and other 21st-century innovations, our students are growing up much more quickly than we did, and there is a great deal of pressure on them to explore what it is like to be an adult.

Career and technical education (CTE) helps students develop essential skills such as communication, confidence, time management, teamwork, innovative thinking and ethical behavior. These are important abilities that all adults need for success in college and in all types of careers.

This bond act will create more realistic and affordable pathways that can lead to stackable credentials, associates’ and bachelors’ degrees, and well-paying careers in growing industries that can support families here in New Jersey.

Here’s one small example: It’s thrilling to see a UCVTS Teacher Education Academy freshman who starts with a fear of public speaking progress from a two-minute classroom talk to a ten-minute, full-blown presentation on a current real-life topic, complete with props, and delivered with enthusiasm and skill to fully engage the audience.

It also reinforces classroom learning in academic subjects. I taught math to students in all types of CTE programs for two years before I took on my current position. I found they were all more focused in their academic classes because their CTE teachers had explained how the math they were learning from me applied to their career goals.

While a technical high school is not for everyone, a CTE program can be life-changing for many students. With employers clamoring for skilled workers, and students searching for meaningful career pathways that do not necessarily require an expensive four-year degree, investing in career and technical education expansion is critical.

New Jersey policy leaders, the state Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy agree.

One element of the public question on the Nov. 6 general election ballot—the Securing Our Children’s’ Future Bond Act—asks for voter approval of $350 million to expand career and technical education programs at county vocational-technical schools and to address student and staff security needs in public schools throughout the state. It also includes $100 million for water infrastructure improvements and $50 million to create more technology training opportunities at county colleges.

Funding to expand CTE is an economic and workforce issue, as well as an education issue.

The investment in state-of-the-art labs, shops, equipment, and classrooms will prepare young people for highly technical, well-paying careers in growing fields such as manufacturing, logistics, construction, medical technology and cybersecurity.

That’s why this bond act and the opportunities it presents are so important to New Jersey public school teachers and the students we serve.

We’ve all known many bright kids who were disengaged in a traditional academic classroom, but blossomed when learning opportunities tapped into their strengths and career interests. And we know that for many students, family circumstances put the cost of a four-year college degree out of reach.

This bond act will create more realistic and affordable pathways that can lead to stackable credentials, associates’ and bachelors’ degrees, and well-paying careers in growing industries that can support families here in New Jersey.

That is a win for students and their families, for teachers who care deeply about their students, for employers concerned about their bottom line, and for taxpayers throughout New Jersey.

I urge you to join me in voting “Yes!” for the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act on Nov. 6.

Dr. Anne Marie McNamara leads the Teacher Education Academy at the Union County Vocational-Technical School District. She is the 2018 national Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Region I Teacher of the Year. Region I covers 15 states in the northeast and mid-west and Washington, D.C. She can be reached at dr.annemariemcnamara@gmail.com.

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