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“The Times They Are a Changin’.” So wrote Bob Dylan in the 1960’s, and they seem to change even more during this tumultuous year of 2020.

A change that has been over by the administrators of the Buena Vista School District is the movement to include what was formerly called Vocational Technical Training in the high school curriculum. Now called Career Technical Education (CTE), the movement has grown nationally.

Mike Rowe, nationally known for hosting the popular television show Dirty Jobs, has been a long-time proponent, saying, “A good education doesn’t always require a college degree.” In fact, he says, “America has been lending money it doesn’t have to kids who cannot pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.” High school administrators and counselors are “ignoring a long history of bad advice.”

Our own school administrators, however, continue to provide a college-prep curriculum when, throughout Colorado, other schools have changed to provide Career Technical Education as a curriculum option.

Thirty-six percent of Colorado high school students are enrolled in one or more CTE classes. Over 106,000 individual Colorado high school students are enrolled in over 140,000 CTE classes. That includes 1,400 programs across 184 schools and 151 districts. (Colorado CTE Fact Sheet 2017) This is not a new concept.

Why is a comprehensive CTE program important to the future of Buena Vista high school students?

First, students deserve a choice. reports 33 percent of our high school graduates are not college-bound. Not all of them want to go to college. Not all of their parents can afford to send them to college. Not all of them are willing to take on the onerous financial and psychological burden of college debt.

Second, the performance of our school would improve. Colorado students who are enrolled in CTE programs graduate at a higher rate than the general student population – 89 percent compared to 81 percent. Increasing the graduation rate would be a beneficial outcome for students and the school district. (CTE Fact Sheet 2017/18)

Robert Paulson, a 17-year-old Grandview High School student, stands next to machinery in an advanced manufacturing room at the Innovation Campus, Cherry Creek School District’s new career-technical education facility in the central Centennial area. Image Centennial Citizen.

80 percent of students taking a college preparatory curriculum with rigorous CTE meet college and career readiness goals compared to 63 percent of students taking the same academic core who did not experience rigorous CTE. (“High Schools That Work,” Southern Regional Education Board, 2012 Assessment)

Additionally, high-risk students are far less likely to drop out in the 11th and 12th grades if they enroll in a CTE program instead of a general program. In a 2005 study from the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, we learn that 81 percent of high school dropouts said that learning opportunities like CTE would have kept them in school.

Our community would surely benefit; many Buena Vista employers are desperate to hire more skilled labor.

We are surrounded by school districts that have taken action. In addition to typical shop classes like Buena Vista offers, Salida High School has developed financial resources to offer a CTE automotive technology program and a CTE building trades program that teaches the elements of residential construction while actually building homes for teachers who could not otherwise afford to reside in the district. Both programs offer college credit and certificates through Colorado Mountain College. Our two shop classes do not.

Leadville’s Lake County High School has tapped into financing sources to offer CTE in two ways: Leadville has CTE classes within their school, and they offer CTE programs through Colorado Mountain College. All of these classes can be a part of either career or college diploma pathways. The career pathway has less academic requirements but entails both a recognized industry certificate and an internship connected to that area of interest.

Lake County High School offers CTE business and marketing, accounting, career math, personal finance, woodshop, metals, and fly fishing. Through CMC, their high school students can take welding, electrical, and culinary arts. They are starting a bicycle mechanics program this year, and Principal Ben Cairns says they are looking at a construction program similar to Salida’s. These are year-long programs that conclude with career industry certificates at graduation. Other programs such as EMT and fire science can be started in high school and finished after graduation.

The Cherry Creek Innovation Campus partnership with Toyota. It’s T-Ten program partners with schools to complete diagnostic certifications in the automotive field.

The Colorado leader in innovative education is the Cherry Creek School District. If there ever was a school district that could justify educating all their students in a college-prep curriculum, it’s Cherry Creek.

Yet, just last year, the district opened a $43 million dollar, 117,000 sq. ft. building called the Innovation Campus, open to district students “who desire to be job-ready after graduation, who desire college credit, or who desire to turn undecided goals into pinpointed passions” ( They offer high school pathways in health and wellness, advanced manufacturing, business services, hospitality and tourism, infrastructure engineering, automotive technology, and aviation maintenance.

Buena Vista can’t be Cherry Creek, but look at what Peyton, [Colorado] (218 high school enrollments), an even smaller high school than Buena Vista (287 enrollments) has done.

They partnered with another district to develop a National Training Center called The MILL – Manufacturing Industrial Learning Lab. Through their vocational training programs and The Mill, Peyton offers their high school students (and students from other districts) training in automotive, cabinet manufacturing, residential home construction, and national certifications on the latest industrial equipment, provided at no cost through partnerships with industrial equipment manufacturers.

The banner headline on the BV School District website reads “Ensuring every student reaches the peak of success”. Is that even possible with only one pathway to graduation?

The addition of optional skilled trades pathways in our high school would go a long way toward actually reaching that goal. Let’s do it for the kids, but let’s also do it for our community.

To move this issue forward such that a skills trade program is included in the curriculum at Buena Vista High School, taxpayers (individuals, including parents, and business owners) must speak up and make their voices heard.

J. David Holt, Nathrop

Richard Deckard, Nathrop

Featured image: A major, year-long project came together recently at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus Infrastructure and Engineering Pathway’s Program. Six Tiny Homes were loaded onto trucks and delivered to Colorado Village Collaborative to provide shelter for the homeless.