CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Students across the state are exploring professional careers before stepping onto high school campuses.
It's part of the Career and Technical Education programs (CTE), giving students hands-on experiences in professions, like electronics and computer science.
State leaders are awarding millions to modernize the CTE programs.
The General Assembly recently allotted $3 million for State Superintendent Catherine Truitt to award funds to school districts via two grant programs: CTE Modernization and Ancillary Program Award.
In a statement, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction says the grants will modernize systems that support students in grades 6-8 with career awareness, exploration and planning.
“I want all students to pursue the post-secondary plan of their choice with confidence, and I want them to feel empowered by their knowledge and the paths before them. My hope is that these grants will help districts across the state continue to advance their CTE opportunities and help teachers and other educators ensure that students are exposed to the widest range of careers available to them and to begin learning the skills they’ll need to be successful,” Truitt said in a statement.
Sixty-six school districts in North Carolina were awarded funds, including Cleveland County Schools, which has received $50,000.
CTE Director for Cleveland County Schools Rhonda Benfield says the new grant funds will help them expand the resources they already have at Kings Mountain Middle School to additional middle school campuses. Students at Kings Mountain are using modules and labs that introduce them to a variety of careers, like robotics, home maintenance and computer science. They work in pairs, rotating to the different labs, getting experience in those careers.
"Kings Mountain is the one middle school that has some of the labs in place," Benfield said. "The $50,000 grant will help us to add those labs at our other middle schools."
Benfield says the district can now add new professions, such as nutrition and wellness, criminalistics and flight and drone.
Benfield says the CTE program could help to fill vacancies in many careers, including fields the students are learning about in their labs.
"In Cleveland County, our three largest workforce sectors are health care, education and manufacturing. Modules expose students to all those. We really want them to honestly explore all the variety of careers, whether its something we're teaching or not," Benfield said. "It's important to us we push those career conversations earlier at the middle grade level. So once they reach high school, hopefully they've decided on something they're interested in and we can start preparing them for that."
Hailey Furman, 12, is one of the students in the Kings Mountain Middle CTE program.
Furman says the classes are allowing her to sharpen her skills in robotics, a profession she's interested in pursing as a career.
"It helps me learn more about programing things and coding so in the future it won't be as much to learn," Furman said.
Furman's teacher, David Sparks, says this hands-on experience is exactly what students need to help enter a career they'll enjoy doing long term.
"As I worked in the industry, I found some people didn't like their jobs," Sparks said. "They didn't understand what their strengths and weaknesses were. What we're doing here is finding out what each student likes, and they normally like where their strengths are, so they're already understanding how to use some of the equipment [they'll likely be using] when entering the industry for a job."
Additional districts awarded grant funds include: Cabarrus County Schools, Beaufort County Schools and Asheville City Schools.