Faith Lanzillo was not surprised by the shrugs and blank stares she received from her middle school audience when she asked what they knew about CTE (career and technical education). At their age, her reaction would have been the same.
“In middle school, I didn’t know there was CTE,” said Lanzillo, one of six career and technical education “ambassadors” who shared their stories with students at the Daisy Bronson Middle School in Littleton in May.
Now an emergency medical technician and college student, Lanzillo credits her high school’s CTE program with setting her on a solid career path. “It was a big game changer for me,” she said. “I feel like it’s important for kids to know it exists.”
The event was the first in a series of grant-funded CTE alumni events designed to introduce young people to CTE at an earlier age, expanding awareness and affording them more time to explore all options as they prepare for high school and life thereafter. A second event was held at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont in July, and a final event is scheduled for September in Hudson. The events provide a blueprint for other CTE centers to follow as well.
“It’s just giving students a little bit of, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing. This is what we’re about,” said Stephanie Gray-Lemay, an Education Consultant for the Bureau of Career Development at the NH Department of Education.
As small groups of middle schoolers rotated among them in five-minute intervals, the alumni described their varying experiences in CTE programs.
In contrast with Lanzillo, whose career pathway proceeded in a straight line from a CTE health science program to a career as an EMT, Kuba Kubkowski took more of a zig-zagging path. After graduating from the health science program at the Hugh J. Gallen Career and Technical Center in Littleton, he went on to nursing school. But partway through, he discovered a talent for sales and ended up getting a degree in business management instead. Starting on a career pathway while in high school helped him home in on his real passion earlier, saving him time and money. But, he told the students, thinking about career options as early as middle school can give you even more time to explore, without locking you in.
“I really encourage you guys to try as many things as you can,” said Kubkowski, who now owns two businesses in town. “You never know which path you’re going down or what opportunity might come up.”
Participation in CTE programs around the state has been steadily climbing for the past five years, according to data provided by the Department of Education. In 2022, approximately 10,000 students have participated in CTE programs in New Hampshire.
Providing greater access to the opportunities available through career and technical education has become a priority for lawmakers and educational leaders of late. Legislators recently passed HB 1661, which aims to promote access through calendar alignment, embedded credits, and transportation.
The legislation is part of a broader movement to construct a career pathway network for students. Experts say these pathway systems need to include guidance from mentors such as these recent alums to help students build their career navigation skills. Research also shows a strong link between middle school career exploration and career outcomes.
Garrick Berry, who attended the White Mountains Regional Culinary Program in Whitefield, was in middle school when he discovered his passion. “When I was your age, I realized I loved to cook. I loved to make people happy,” Berry, who now works as a line cook at the Littleton Freehouse, told the students. “As soon as I became a freshman I took as many culinary classes as I could.”
A lot of students miss out on such experiences because CTE simply isn’t on their radar, said Gray-Lemay, a Littleton native and former CTE teacher.
“Even the kids in our own facility didn’t realize there were programs there,” Gray-Lemay said. “If we can get the word out to more students, that will be amazing.”
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