Manassas City Public Schools’ CTE Program Prepares Thousands for Today’s Workplace

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By Emma Young

Breaking new ground on a cutting-edge educational approach is not easy. “It was a lot of hard work, a lot of investigation and a lot of planning,” said Manassas City Public Schools [MCPS] Superintendent Dr. Catherine Magouyrk of Manassas’ recently revitalized Career and Technical Education [CTE] Program.

The schools began modernizing CTE by reaching out to the community, developing partnerships with businesses, determining student interests, gathering the expertise of educators and involving supportive groups, such as the MCPS Educational Foundation, Manassas Business Council and Prince William Chamber of Commerce.

“What we’re facing with students today is that occupations have dramatically changed. This is where feedback from businesses is crucial to make sure the coursework is relevant, timely,” said MCPS Supervisor of K-12 CTE Susan McNamara.

In redesigning the program to keep pace with an evolving job market, CTE is built around four educational pathways: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), health and human services, performing arts and business and finance. Each pathway includes instruction from experienced practitioners, opportunities for internships and/or college credit or potential routes for professional certification in in-demand fields, such as cyber security and public safety. Many courses, such as auto tech and cosmetology, allow for hands-on training in the classroom.

“We want our kids to be competitive. We’re modernizing education, so it is authentic, real and valuable,” said Osbourn High School Principal Cathy Benner.

CTE business partners enhance the educational experience by interacting with students in a number of ways. Some activities, such as mock interviews, career days and National Young Readers Day, allow for business people to commit only an hour or two of their time, as their schedule allows.

For those seeking longer-term interactions, professionals can serve as mentors, hire interns and apprentices or join school advisory groups. All of these partnerships enable businesses to give back to the community while shaping how our future workforce learns essential skills and workplace ethics.

Business partners report learning from the experience as well. “Nobody has their finger on the pulse like kids do,” Bookworm Central Founder and CEO Radhika Bajaj said after hiring student interns for her company’s busy holiday season, “To be with young children from different mindsets, that is an education I totally relish. From a business perspective, it is really powerful.”

While the concept of CTE has existed for decades, a breakthrough in the redesigned Manassas program is that skills development begins in kindergarten. “Our elementary students get a lot of exposure to early problem-solving activities,” said MCPS Executive Director of Student Achievement Dr. Melissa Saunders. “In middle school, they start having conversations with school counselors and taking surveys to identify their interests, and [they take]a course in college and career readiness.”

“Every student enters Osbourn with an academic plan,” Saunders added, saying that students don’t miss out on any courses that they need or want to take during high school.

School officials say that the program is succeeding, with students being hired directly from high school, receiving advanced credit for college and finding career paths they’re passionate about. “The response from students is excellent,” said Paul Steiner, CTE administrator at Osbourn High School. “It’s excellent career exposure and development of so many other skills, such as leadership, teamwork and confidence building.”

Dr. Magouyrk summed up the value of ensuring that Manassas students graduate with in-demand job skills and good work habits: “This is the most important thing we’ve done.”

Emma Young (eyoung@princewilliamliving.com) is a freelance writer living in Prince William County.

Upcoming MCPS CTE Events

Visit ManassasCTE.com/event to learn more and RSVP.

Mock Interviews & CTE Open House

Nov. 15, 12:30 – 5:30 p. m., Osbourn High School: Businesses interview CTE students, tour CTE classrooms and learn how to help students graduate with relevant skills for the modern workplace.

Shape the Future!

Manassas CTE invites area business people to shape how today’s students prepare for the workforce of tomorrow. Visit ManssasCTE.com or call 571-377-6067.

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