Telluride students at Santa Fe’s Surroundings, exploring careers in the creative industry. From left, Surroundings co-owner Kenneth Francis, CTE teacher Jennifer Morgan, Ambra Jacobson, Brooke Shifrin, Georgia Montalvo, Bella Galbo, Kathryn Ballode, co-owner Sandra Donner and CTE teacher Heather Rosen. (Courtesy photo)

All five school board candidates running for three open seats in next week’s election have suggested the importance of alternative learning for local students who don’t plan to attend college. What used to be called “vocational” classes are now referred to as “career and technological education (CTE) pathways.”

“Our push is for continuing education,” said Heather Rosen, workstudy and mentorship director at Telluride High School (THS). “We really are trying not to go high school to work force. Career and tech ed is not job training as much as it’s education leading into the next phase, which could be anything from job training to further education at the college level.”

Over the past 20 years, THS has developed three CTE pathways in graphic or digital design and photography, theater technologies, and multi-media and journalism. 

Rosen teaches CTE courses in graphic design, film, yearbook and mentorship. THS teachers Jennifer Morgan (art and photography) and Angela Watkins (theater) also have CTE credentials.

“As soon as we get STEM career-certified, my computer science class will qualify as well,” Rosen said. “And, hopefully, journalism will be certified and brought in to the multi-media pathway.”

Rosen said funding and staffing for CTE is a challenge because students need to have two years of classes to be considered “completers” in an area.

“Meaning we can’t get funding until a student is a ‘completer,’ which is a new mandate from the state this year,” Rosen explained. “It used to be just one year and a student was considered a ‘completer,’ which was a lot more achievable.”

The official mission of CTE is to ensure “a thriving Colorado economy by providing relevant and rigorous education” which includes “core academic content, Postsecondary & Workforce Readiness, competencies, and technical skills … to meet challenges of the workforce, economic development, and emerging occupations.”

Currently 106,720 high school students and 29,741 middle school students are enrolled in CTE programs across the state.

“We’ve proven that Telluride is extremely efficient in its system for college-going kids,” Superintendent Mike Gass said. “But we are always looking to improve on our next target, like the CTE opportunities available for kids who aren’t necessarily going the college route, whether that’s going to a trade school or whether that’s going right into the work force.”

THS Principal Sara Kimble agreed there’s a need to support students who aren’t on the traditional college path.

“We meet some of those needs through our mentorship program, but this is definitely an area that we can expand,” she said.

Recently, a CTE survey was distributed to gauge understanding and interest from district students, teachers and parents, yielding information that will help the district develop programming and credential teachers.

According to THS college counselor Karen Lavender, of 74 graduates from the class of 2019, six said they were working, traveling or taking a gap year upon graduating. In 2018, six graduates of 57 said they were going to work. In 2017, two of 67 graduates said they were going to work. 

Colorado CTE programs are divided into six industry sectors: agriculture, natural resources and energy; STEM, arts, design and information technology; skilled trades and technical sciences; health science, criminal justice and public safety; hospitality, human services and education; and business, marketing and public administration.

Rosen said local CTE offerings tend to be arts-based, given the school’s collaborators — the Palm Theater and TellurideTV, for example. While students gain valuable skills through CTE programming, they don’t earn an official certificate. 

“I would say that any student leaving our multi-media and graphic design program could easily go into some sort of a paid position,” she said.   

Gass pointed to the district’s isolation and lack of CTE-appropriate facilities as challenges to offering a wider selection of classes. 

“And a lot of times we don’t have the numbers to drive some of that,” he added.

During this week’s “Off the Record” program on KOTO radio, school board candidate Cheryl Carstens Miller pointed out a new Mechatronics (mechanical and electronics) program offered by Western Colorado Community College involving a self-contained mobile learning lab that travels to rural communities on the Western Slope, teaching skills in electrical, mechanical and computer technologies.

“It’s a semi-truck with career classrooms where a kid could get a two-year certificate,” she explained. “It’s a very interesting opportunity because facilities have been one of the really difficult nuts to crack.”