Editor’s note: Cristina Sanchez Serrano, has been working for 6 years, first as an ELA teacher and now as Assistant Principal in charge of English Language Acquisition and Special Education Programs and Career Connect Director, at JFK High School in Denver, CO. She shares how CTE can make education more equitable for our underserved students.
In spite of the increasing ethnic diversity of the United States over the last century, the mainstream curriculum and instructional strategies of its schools, colleges, and universities remains organized around concepts, events, and paradigms that do not align with our student body, society, and job market needs.
Our goal as educators should be providing every child with rigorous and enriching educational opportunities in an equitable and inclusive environment that fosters the growth of the whole child so that they can achieve the knowledge and skills necessary to become contributing citizens in our society. Students need to feel comfortable and safe in the classroom and secure in being themselves. In order to ensure this, we need to move from equality to equity, from providing the same resources and opportunities to our students to redistributing access and opportunity to them, specifically gifted and talented, special education, and English language learners—the majority of our student body at JFK High School. If equality means giving everyone the same resources, equity means giving each student access to the resources they need to learn and thrive. If we do this, there will be a high level of student participation and engagement everywhere in the building.
My job, passion, and drive, is ensuring that access, opportunity, high expectations, and rigor have no language, gender, race, legal status, socio-economic status, or disability barrier that prevents all students from succeeding and that the programs that serve our students are not Band-Aids, add-ons, or isolated instructional practices not embedded in the instructional vision and mission of the school. Denver Plan 2020 ensures that all students graduate college and career ready, which means we need to provide students with college and career equally.
Among programs that provide students with the readiness they need for the world outside of high school, we find Career Technical Education (CTE)—a proven strategy that expands options for learners, empowers them to choose a meaningful and sustainable career, and prepares them with the real-world skills for success in college and careers. Through hands-on learning, engagement with industry experts, rigorous academic and career-focused coursework, and the traits of the young professional, or essential skills embedded into the instruction and practice of the CTE content, learning is made real—and it’s benefiting Colorado’s students and economy.
ACEConnect is a programming and service partnership between CareerConnect and the Division of Student Equity & Opportunity to ensure options for effective career and college preparation are available and accessible to ALL students in Denver Public Schools. The partnership provides career pathways and complementary programs of additional or tailored services to prepare students identified as special populations in CTE to be successful in career and life by ensuring that they are workforce-ready, skillful, self-determined, and successful members of the workforce and their community. Students may choose to enter any industry, and ACEConnect helps them to build the work habits, as well as the collaboration and technical skills, that align with their chosen career and industry focus. A printing business, a coffee shop, and a community garden are some of the business opportunities my students have to develop these skills.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
When at least 80% of students in the school have specific needs to address, a “one size fits all” paradigm does not work. Schools are for students, so they should run the instructional strategies and programs that lead them to college and career readiness. In order to make sure students are first, every day I redistribute access and opportunities among the programs and instructional strategies we use.
Some of the strategies used to achieve this liberation in the classroom are: consistently facilitating students’ equitable access to rigorous content, participation, peer interaction, and teacher attention; interacting with students in ways that validate, respect, and encourage their cultural preferences, native languages, and varied cultural perspectives (e.g., youth culture; the disability culture; students’ community and family backgrounds); and supporting access to and/or extension of grade-level content by adjusting content, lesson processes, and/or products to meet the diverse academic and linguistic needs of individual students (including students with interrupted formal education).
We are failing the civil rights challenge to ensure that all of our students, including special education and English language learners, graduate from our high schools prepared for college or career when we forget the most important thing: the need for all of our children to have both access and opportunity for educational equity and career opportunities regardless language, gender, race, legal status, socio-economic status, or disability. Career and technical education is one way to address equity, while giving students the skills they need for the real-world of life and careers.
Denver Public Schools image used with permission.
Photo credit: Marshall Washburn. Used with permission.
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