Advanced classes or career education? CUSD trying to improve diversity in both – Chico Enterprise-Record
CHICO — Butte County’s schools have struggled for years to try to improve the accessibility of all pathways to every student, to improve diversity in every classroom.
The push to improve what’s called equitable access is especially apparent in Chico’s high schools, when students choose between taking advanced placement classes (for getting early college credits) or Career and Technical Education pathway classes.
The term “equitable access” means all students legally must know all options available, according to Assistant Principal of Secondary and Alternative Education John Shepherd.
“But that doesn’t mean every kid knows what is actually available to them,” Shepherd said.
That’s why encouraging growth of the 21 total CTE pathways is critical. Chico Unified School District has worked hard to end the stereotype that students need to choose between either AP or CTE classes, for the last “five or six years,” grant manager Kristin Lower said. There are also many old stereotypes about which students choose which pathways that the district hopes to mend, such as that students who choose skills classes do so instead of taking AP classes with the intent of attending four-year colleges.
This can lead to classrooms that may not accurately represent the student population interested in both academic sides — and a less diverse workforce as students graduate high school.
The National Skills Coalition’s Roadmap for Racial Equity recommends nine steps for improving diversity in the workforce — including increasing inclusion practices of industry and business partnerships by combining high school credentials with postsecondary, industry-recognized credentials — that make CTE classes crucial to mending traditional barriers in classrooms.
At Oroville High, it’s seen as a struggle at times to improve the diversity of some classrooms because of old stereotypes about who enrolls in which classes. The school’s automotive tech class rarely has more than a couple females, according to auto shop teacher Daniel Briggs.
The lack of equal representation of boys and girls has also been identified in Chico in the past, in the manufacturing class at Pleasant Valley High and the robotics and engineering courses at Chico High, according to the teachers of those classes, Gary Loustale and Mike Bruggeman.
The district is working to identify and encourage students to pursue those pathways regardless of gender, race, ethnic or socioeconomic background, Lower said.
Now, CTE classes have more support to carry credits into college, which can help some students who only want to take an entry-level class like engineering to get transferable units for college rather than taking the entire pathway through high school — “there’s no required entry or exit point,” Lower said.
Marketing these classes toward children of all ages, genders and ethnicities is also a major part of attracting more students, Lower said. That’s why counselors are being trained to better help students know all options available to them.
However, Lower believes efforts have been successful to create more diverse classrooms in Butte County’s schools.
“We’ve looked at diversity in our classrooms, and they do represent the students in our county,” Lower said.
Competition between teachers who primarily teach AP classes and those who teach CTE classes has also been an issue in getting students to enroll in classes on both sides.
“We’ve struggled with that in the past few years,” Lower said.
Shepherd added that “it’s always a competition for kids.”
“I appreciate that they’re competing for kids because it makes them work harder to make their program better … but I want them competing on behalf of all kids,” Shepherd said.
That means counselors are critical for helping students understand that they can benefit from exploring both academic and skill-oriented education pathways, Lower said. “We’re trying to show that it’s not just AP vs. CTE.”
The only difficulty that can hold back some counselors from offering CTE classes to students is often accessibility — so, making sure more of these classes are possible for students with disabilities is also a concern for the Chico school district, Lower said.
Targeted case managers at each school and wellness counselors are also valuable resources to provide more specific help to students who need more resources, Shepherd added.
Although currently there is no position specifically designated for analyzing classroom diversity and opportunities within the district, the district is working as a cohesive unit to improve representation in all classrooms, Lower said. Support from state governors in the past eight years has also helped grow CTE, which makes it more flexible for students from many backgrounds with different skill sets, who are well-rounded in all areas.
The innovation to accomplish this difficult task is all made possible by the dedication of teachers acting as CTE pathway leads, Shepherd said.