EDGEWATER, Md. (Nov. 15, 2017)—Ebony Ginard can build a small house in just two weeks.
Some people work their entire lives to become certified in their trade, but Ginard says she has gained multiple carpentry certifications and valuable skills at Center of Applied Technology South, a Maryland public high school in Edgewater, Maryland, with more than a dozen special career programs.
In 2016, there were 97,857 students in Maryland enrolled in career and technology education programs across the 237 schools that offered them, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. There were 148 different continuing education programs of study offered and about 38.7 percent of high school students in Maryland participated in these programs.
A state education commission, helmed by former University System of Maryland Chancellor William "Brit" Kirwan, is weighing these programs as part of its broad look into improving Maryland schools.
Some commission members said at last month's meeting they would like to alter the misconception that only students who do not excel in traditional academic subjects should enroll in career and technology programs, and instead that these programs should continue to develop.
To do so, commission members want more funding, and more involvement from businesses, said Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore.
"Every time we can couple our programs with an industry-related certification or credential, we do," Karen B. Salmon, state superintendent of schools, told the commission.
Career and technology programs throughout the state, like CAT South, measure their success based on the students' successes. The carpentry program, for example, has had a 100 percent graduation rate, carpentry teacher James Turek told the University of Maryland's Capital News Service.
This year, the school offers 14 different pathways, or career programs, such as cosmetology, automotive technology, carpentry and even marine repair technology, the only program of its kind east of the Mississippi River.
"We have a lot of diverse kids that come through our program with a lot of different needs and wants, and we have many different programs so we can satisfy those needs, which is outstanding," Turek said.
Aside from learning the "hard" skills that are needed for employment, commission members said, all students, including those not enrolled in a career program, should learn about the "soft" skills, including professionalism, attitude, problem solving and cooperative team-building skills.
"We get them prepared for employment. They get prepared very differently than kids who go through non-CTE programs because we do offer the competitive edge when it comes to employability: We focus on those skills specifically," Turek said.
"We have a lot of fun here, as stressful as it is," Jessica White, a junior in the information technology networking program, said. "It's a different experience and I like it. It's hands-on and you get to know the material so much better than if you were reading it from a textbook."
Once a student completes a Maryland career program, they also have the option to earn college credits or certifications and licenses.
Many students at CAT South have already earned certifications or are expecting to earn several by the time they graduate.
CJ Catner, a junior in the auto technology program, said he has already earned eight certifications, and Olivia Carhart, senior cosmetology student, said she is expecting to receive her state board certification at the end of the school year.
"The way that the teachers lay out the curriculum is how to do everything according to state board, so that we know we're doing everything safely, which has definitely prepared us for the exam," Carhart said.
White said that CAT South has done a great job preparing her for the computer science field.
"You're definitely ready to go into the workplace right away but I want to go to college first to get more degrees under my belt. I have two certifications and working on getting two more," White said.
Based on the success of these "career and technology education" programs, commission members are seeing the need for even more support.
"I like the idea of expanding (the program)," said Assistant State Superintendent for the Division of Career and College Readiness Lynne Gilli. "Anything that adds resources to the initiative would help."
State aid to local jurisdictions for career and technical education statewide totaled $14,074,309 in the 2015 fiscal year. This fiscal year, the total was $13,677,310.
In Maryland, each local jurisdiction determines the total it will allocate for career and technology education, said Bill Reinhard, director of communications for the Maryland State Department of Education.
Total federal grants to states nationwide in 2016 topped $1.1 billion for career, technical and adult education.
For many students, the program is more than just learning their trade—it's about forming relationships.
"It's a different type of classroom, you're not required to be here, it's a choice. You elect yourself to be here so with that mindset it does make us closer and I probably spend more time with these people than anyone else…I would say it's like a family," Carhart said.