The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s Career Technical Education and Adult Education programs combine basic life skills learned in the vocational-technical classes of yesterday with real life skills that the students of today will need to thrive in the world of tomorrow.
“We’ve backward-mapped it,” explained Todd Wold, TTUSD’s manager of College and Careers: Career Technical Education and Adult Education. Rather than kids going off to college merely because it’s expected, the goal is to identify each student’s aptitudes and talents, based on their hobbies and interests, to find a complementary career path.
TTUSD offers all of its high schoolers the opportunity to learn real life skills that will further their post-secondary education lives through its Career Technical Education Pathways. There are eight pathways available to students in the district’s three high schools: North Tahoe, Sierra, and Truckee. Although the pathways are open to any grade level, students typically begin exploring them in the 10th grade as a lot of them are a two-year cycle. The district requires completion of one year of a pathway in order to graduate, but that way, students have the option to follow through to the end.
At North Tahoe, students can choose between engineering technology or food services and hospitality, while Sierra High offers emergency response. At Truckee High, engineering technology and food services and hospitality are also available in addition to information technology, product innovation and design, and welding and materials jointing. As an open-enrollment district, students are welcome to commute to a different school to take a pathway that isn’t offered on their own campus.
The overall goal, says Wold, is to ensure that every student in the district graduates ready for college, a career, and life, whether they decide to go directly into work life or on to higher education. Career Technical Education Technician Chelsea Walterscheid sees the pathways as a way for students to explore the pursuit of different careers.
The selection of which pathways to offer is deliberate on the district’s part, Walterscheid said, “filter[ing] into an industry in our area.” She noted that the current pathways fit into careers with some of the area’s largest employers such as the Tahoe Forest Hospital District, local town governments, the hospitality industry, and even TTUSD itself.
Both Wold and Walterscheid have access to data on labor force trends, from throughout the region down to specific zip codes, providing insight into which careers have the most promise for employment — with livable wages, Wold stressed — after graduation, whether that be from secondary or higher education.
“We have 300-plus graduates a year that need to either go to college or go into a career. So, where are those openings?” he said, noting that skills learned in all of the pathways cross many different sectors. For example, math and measurements are equally important in the culinary and engineering classes as they are in Gone Boarding, the product innovation and design pathway at Truckee High in which students design and manufacture their choice of stand-up paddle, surf, skate, snow, or wake boards.
In the culinary arts program, students don’t simply acquire cooking skills. They learn the ins and outs of running a commercial kitchen using state-of-the-art equipment and typically walk away with certificates in areas such as food handling and safety. Kids in the emergency response program can earn up to seven different certifications in areas like CPR and first aid, with the option to pursue further training through Sierra College. At age 18, they’re allowed to obtain an emergency medical technician certification.
“Our community is phenomenal at working with us and partnering with us,” said Wold, noting that the CTE pathways would not be possible without members of the local business community and the community at large, which showed its support through passing several education-related tax measures over the years.
Local business owners, a number of whom sit on the CTE Pathways Advisory Committee, have shown their support as mentors and through job-shadows and internships for students. Tax measures A, AA, E, and U have contributed to facility improvements and supplies needed to run each of the programs. For instance, about half of the recently added west wing of Truckee High School houses the CTE pathways classrooms. At North Tahoe, the culinary arts room is being renovated to resemble a restaurant-like setting.
“We’re very appreciative of the community and their support, and we definitely could not do this without them,” Wold said.
In addition to strong community support, CTE Pathways is fueled by additional grant funding from the state and federal governments, having received well over $6 million in grants to date. Such grants cover everything from supplies specific to each pathway to Walterscheid’s position.
In addition, the current school year marked the first time the district has offered a full elective class in “adulting.” Previously, it had been available as part of a 25-minute student success reading enrichment period.
“Adulting was a class idea students had told me about when I was student teaching in 2017,” explained Truckee High teacher Courtney Delgado. “They wanted a space where they could learn about what it would feel like to be on their own.”
Principal Logan Mallonee liked the idea and permitted Delgado to start teaching during the enrichment period. As interest grew, she supported adulting becoming a full elective for juniors and seniors. Delgado created a curriculum based on input from parents and students.
“I’ve tried to design the course to be applicable for all high schoolers; no matter what their future plans entail. It’s a great way for them to think ahead to their future and make plans in a low-risk situation,” she explained. “Researching first apartments, common pitfalls of living on your own, first jobs, future career paths and how to get there, financial literacy … it’s less scary in the real world if you’ve seen it once before somehow. I’m just trying to provide an overview of being a young adult out on your own so they feel a tiny bit more prepared for the world.”
As student needs change, so will the curriculum. The current course focuses on career paths (how to get to your dream job), budgeting and building savings, credit cards and building credit, buying big ticket items like a car or house, nutrition and cooking for yourself, mental health, emergency preparedness (car accidents, natural disasters where you live, basic first aid), safe travel, and working with others (communication skills).
“At the end of the day, our students are going to leave and have to make decisions on what they’re going to do with their adult lives,” Walterscheid said. “If we can spend the time they have with us exposing them to a variety of career and postsecondary education options, then we have helped prepare them for these big decisions.”