It was raining the morning we pulled up to Hurst-Euless-Bedford Buinger CTE Academy. We got out of our cars and quickly covered the ground between the parking lot and the Administration building. I am not sure how, but all three of us had forgotten to pack an umbrella for the trip. Poor planning on our part as a northern cold front had come through the Dallas Fort Worth area the night before. This one of those times that I was glad I had a Jean Luc-Picard haircut. One quick squeegee swipe of my right hand and I was good to go. The women of my team were not as lucky, so we took a moment to arrange ourselves before preceding the main office. Once inside, we were greeted by Lisa Karr, Director of Career and Technical Education. We had only been talking for a few minutes, but I was immediately struck by Lisa’s pride for her students and her gratitude for the new school facilities she administered. Her previous building was 25,000 square-feet and supported 900 students. As she explained teachers working conditions weren’t as desirable as they would have chosen but they took advantage of what they had. Their hard work and dedication for their CTE students led them to be able to create the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Buinger CTE Academy and changed the game for CTE in Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD.
The new building was the result of a $33 million bond effort supported by local school officials, community and industry leaders. The building is 146,000 square-feet and is organized into four Pods supporting CTE/STEM education programs. The new facility has drawn over 2,000 students from Trinity High School and Bell High School. The additional classroom and laboratory space offer a window of opportunity to expand new CTE programs. Lisa explained that her school serves all students from special needs to honor students. The school year is organized into tri-semesters and the coursework is scheduled into a five period day. Students study core subjects at their home high school for half a day and then travel to Hurst-Euless-Bedford Buinger CTE Academy to take their CTE courses. She stated that by expanding CTE course offerings they are reaching students who were bored by what she calls “sit and get” lectures and as a result they are keeping students in school who otherwise might have dropped out. All CTE programs are based on hands-on application of the information taught. As I was to learn during our visit, her CTE programs are built around developing more than technical knowledge and skills, her programs teach life and employability skills. We will discuss more of this later.
Lisa offered to take us on a tour of her domain. The building architecture had the look and feel of a technology company- glass, steel, high ceilings and large open areas for students to mingle or work on class projects. Lisa first introduced us to Roy Bobo who leads the architecture program. Roy met us with a big smile and a handshake. After a brief introduction we learned that as an alumni, Roy’s hard work didn’t start in the classroom. Roy was able to take what he learned in CTE during his time at Hurst-Euless-Bedford and applied it to real world work environment. He had worked in the industry including owning his own business before deciding to “give back” by becoming a CTE teacher at his alma mater. He shared with us that teaching was never a thought in his mind until his mentor from that very district reached out and asked him fill his shoes in the classroom. Roy knew how big those shoes were but thought if he was the one he picked, that it was the right fit. After 31 years not only does he know he made the right decision but he sees the impact he is made when his student frequently travel back for a quick visit.
We met in Roy’s classroom which was more of a computer training lab than a typical classroom. The classroom walls were covered with architectural drawings designed by his students. His first year students learn drafting skills which includes architectural math and computer aided design (CAD) skills necessary to develop floor plans. His advanced students learn about project management and multidisciplinary integration necessary for commercial architecture projects. As part of the classroom curriculum, Roy requires his students to present their designs to the entire class as they would be required to do with a client. As you might imagine, there is a critical review and defense of the presented design. Most of the class projects are organized as teams where students learn to interact with one another and learn about project management and division of labor necessary for business success. In this manner, students learn that communication and presentation skills are just as important as technical achievement in the real world. As part of the curriculum, Roy’s students accumulate Revit, Inventor, and AutoCAD certifications from Autodesk. These certifications ensure that his students graduate from high school with industry recognized credentials and job skills. Roy shared his philosophy for his students with us, “if you have an industry recognized job skill- you will always have a job.”
As we were talking, I asked Roy about students getting lost in today’s mega high schools with thousands of students. I have often wondered, “what happens to the kids who are not part of the jocks, cheerleaders or cool kids?” Roy shared with us a story about a student who was bullied in middle school because he was smart, but was shy and did not possess social skills. Once the student got into Roy’s architecture class, he learned Autodesk Revit and was quickly recognized by his classmates as the “one to go to” if you had a question on how to use this software. Roy, explained in time, he encouraged this young man to teach the class on how to use the Revit software. The student continued to gain confidence through his classroom experience and went on to take First Place at the state Architecture Skills contest his second year at Hurst-Euless-Bedford. I loved this story. Here was a young man who might have been lost in a traditional high school, but through the use of project based curriculums associated with CTE, he was able to not only excel in the classroom, but this young student was able to demonstrate that taking advantage of your strengths can lead to overcoming things you never thought you were capable of performing.
As we rose from our seats to leave the classroom, I noticed that Roy’s class included 3D printers. The geek in me was jealous. I immediately asked Roy about the printers and he explained that the students were now learning how to use CAD software to design and build three dimensional objects. If you are not familiar with this technology, it is cutting edge. People are now building robots, cars, replacement human organs and culinary delights (think chocolate deserts) using this technology. This was very cool. We marveled at the student projects built using the 3D printers and then said our goodbyes as we continued our tour.
As we walked through the campus, we observed classrooms on Health Science, Law and Public Safety, Electronics and Computer Technology, Automotive and Culinary Arts. Once again I geeked out during our tour of the Automotive lab which included an APC CNC Plasma Cutter. Using this machine, students could design parts using CAD software and then use the plasma cutter to cut sheet metal for their designs. While my team learned more about the rest of the lab, I was actively taking notes on the use of the plasma cutter from our classroom host. The machine was out of my price range, but I put it on my future wish list anyway. A plasma cutter – very cool. Next we visited culinary arts where the students were learning to prepare various sauces often paired with steaks and other gourmet items. It was getting near lunch time and the steaks were a tempting distraction. The Culinary Arts instructor, Teri Booth, gave us a tour of her kitchen which was designed to use modular food preparation stations so they could configure the classroom (a commercial kitchen) based on the menu they were preparing. Like so many of the CTE instructors we had met, she had worked in industry and ran her own business, bringing real world experience into her classroom. In addition to learning food preparation, her students learn to work in teams rotating team leaders, practice writing business plans, practice writing business loan applications, and design menus and marketing materials. Once again, I was learning how Hurst-Euless-Bedford was preparing their students for the real world as these were necessary skills to have if you were to operate your own restaurant or catering business. I asked her about her students and she replied that they came from all walks of life, student athletes, straight A students and special education students. I then asked her to tell us about one of her classroom successes. She smiled and said there were so many, but then proceeded to tell us about an autistic student, who excelled in her kitchen. She told us how he developed a passion for cooking and met every classroom challenge. By finding his touch in the kitchen, he was able to integrate himself into the classroom team structure and build relationships with his fellow classmates.
In each of these areas, students were learning valuable job skills while earning employment credentials. As we walked through each of the remaining career pathways, Lisa emphasized to us, “we are focused on Career Readiness for our students not just college preparation.” She went on to say, “regardless if they go to college or not, they will leave our school with employment skills and industry recognized credentials so they have a choice on the direction of their careers”. I asked Lisa if there was anything else that could be done to assist her students. She smiled at me and I immediately realized the error of my question. I was hoping she was not going to start with, “bless your heart” which is usually a southern replacement for “an action or comment reflecting a lower than normal level of intelligence.” I was embarrassed, of course there were dozens of things her students needed. Fortunately, she looked upon me with kindness and shared a major concern for her students. Lisa talked about the socio-economic level of many of her students and how they lacked transportation other than the public school busses to get to their primary high school and her campus. This lack of transportation prevented many of her students from attending dual enrollment courses offered at participating community colleges. Moreover, while her instructors had years of business experience and industry certifications in their fields of employment (meeting the high school requirements for teaching their courses), not all of her instructors were qualified to teach community college courses. This meant that while her CTE curriculums were equivalent in content and scholastic rigor to those offered at community colleges, her students could not earn college credit. I listened intently, but did not offer a solution. This was an issue that I would have to investigate further.
It was amazing how quickly our time passed. I was thoroughly impressed with Lisa and her staff. We shook hands and said our goodbyes. As we walked back to our cars, fortunately the rain had stopped, I was encouraged by what we had learned and observed. Lisa and her team were all about the success of their students. I loved the project based curriculums which required developing teamwork, leadership and communication skills in addition to acquiring technical credentials. I especially enjoyed learning about their use of more advanced students leading classroom discussions and helping other students master the curriculum materials. I loved the stories of previously shy or bullied students finding their classroom voice and peer recognition through the merits of their work. As you might expect, I also loved the use of technology in the classroom. Hurst-Euless-Bedford Buinger CTE Academy is making a difference in their students’ lives and as a result, they are making a difference in our future.