During the United States of Women Summit, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance for educators to ensure all students have equal access to career and technical (CTE) programs.

“As the father of two daughters, I want my girls–and all young women in this country–to have access to the careers of their dreams, no matter the path,” said John B. King Jr., the U.S. secretary of Education. “Career and technical education is not just about preparing some students for successful lives and careers, it’s about giving all students the tools to succeed.”

During the summit this week in Washington, D.C., a panel discussed how to encourage girls to participate in CTE programs and ensure equal access for both boys and girls.

“It really is the students pushing themselves and getting involved in activities at the school,” said panelist Andrea Martinez, instructor in architecture at the Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Washington.

“As we increase awareness outside of our schools with club activity, summer activities, we’re increasing enrollment in our non-traditional curriculum during the school day,” said JoAnn Fey, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Southwest Independent School District. Her San Antonio district offers engineering field trips and a cyber boot camp club.

“[We] generated a grass roots movement into girls actually wanting in to those particular courses at our high schools,” said Fey. “You have to create that awareness outside of the school day.”

Schools can encourage technical fields starting at a young age–not just once girls reach high school. “Let them know these careers are for you,” said Mary Wilson Arrasmith, high school/transition instructional strategist coordinator of technical education, West Baton Rouge Parish school district. “Create opportunities for STEM and CTE as early as possible.”

All panelists were in agreement to showcase CTE and STEM possibilities for young girls. “It’s incumbent on us to really instill that confidence [in girls],” said David Lloyd, acting director of student success for the University of the District of Columbia. “Nurture them from K through 12.”

It’s also important for girls to see women in these technical fields. Wilson Arrasmith described these role models as “STEM ambassadors who come and work with our students.” When girls see women in the field, they can envision themselves in that same position and in turn, schools see an increase in enrollment for STEM classes.

Martinez encouraged partnership with local universities and community colleges to offer dual-enrollment and offering local role models.

District leaders have the opportunity to be champions for the cause. “Create an army of folks around you–counselors, teachers–celebrate those different activities and events,” said Wilson Arrasmith. “It’s important your leadership be fully engaged in the message of equity.”

“Don’t be afraid to do something you’ve never done before,” said Fey. “Celebrate CTE programs in your kids as we celebrate Texas high school football champions. We don’t celebrate academics like we do athletics, and I think that we should.”

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MeriTalk Staff