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February is Career Technology Education Month: Mon’s district is still working toward construction of the county’s first STEM school

Close to 45,000 high school students in West Virginia last year took career technical education courses as part of their day-to-day.

More than 7,000 were graduates from such programs.

And 30,786 students in grades 6-8 — that’s 56% of that population — were enrolled in a career exploration course.

February is Career Technical Education Month across the Mountain State, and the above numbers, watchers from the West Virginia Department of Education say, are making for a seismic-intellectual shift of sorts.

The numbers are showing how post-pandemic students regard their formative school years — and what that experience means as they begin the journey into adulthood and earning a paycheck.

Forget “your grandfather’s vo-tech,” said Clinton Burch, the state’s assistant superintendent of schools.

“Career technical education is so much different than what many adults remember from years ago,” he said.

“Our students are thriving in rigorous classrooms and developing professional and soft skills that make them competitive job candidates.”

Emphasis on rigor, he said: To earn Governor’s Workforce Credential, a student must carry at least a 3.0 grade-point average while also boasting a 95% attendance rate.

Graduates must also be drug-free while earning at least one industry certification in their field.

“It tells employers these students are career-ready,” Burch said.

Here at home, the Monongalia County Technical Education Center on Mississippi Street also carries a 95% number— that’s how many of its students get hired right after graduation.

James Foley, a MTEC student in his senior year, and the district’s Student of the Month for January, said there’s a reason for that.


“The teachers are really good,” said the Clay-Batelle student, who toggles back and forth between his carpentry and automotive tech classes at the center.

“They describe everything how they want it done. How they teach makes it clear and easy.”

Mon’s school district, meanwhile, is embarking on a 21st-century path for career technical education that will either be easy — or not — depending on what happens this spring.

Taxpayers during the May 14 primary election will be asked to consider a $142.6 million bond for the construction of the Renaissance Academy, a standalone institution devoted solely to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) that would serve students from Mon’s three high schools.

Those students from Morgantown High, University and Clay-Battelle would be able to rotate in and out of the academy without interrupting their required core classes at their respective schools.

Nor would they be called upon to sacrifice elective courses or extracurricular activities in that pursuit, as is the current case.

The academy will feature gleaming, high-tech labs and learning spaces that will ideally be underwritten by marquee sponsors in the field.

Such levels of technology, plus the more-advanced textbook courses that will go with it, are what Nancy Walker, a longtime BOE incumbent, is emphasizing when people in the community ask her about it, she said.

It’s a chance for academic and professional exploration, she said.

“This is an ‘every high school student opportunity,’ so they can grow their mindset,” Walker said.

The district is planning a trip next week to Leesburg, Va., where it will tour a STEM school that in part inspired the Renaissance Academy here.

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