Coffee County Central High School’s graduation last week was certainly one to remember. I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations and well-wishes to the graduation class of 2016. Watching these individuals, many of whom I connected with as their classroom teacher, receive the school system’s stamp of approval to officially embark upon the challenges of adulthood was a stark reminder of what makes my career so incredibly fulfilling. As much as the education system tries to push students into proverbial boxes and label their abilities with subjective and superfluous numbers, they are still people who are now in charge of helping shape the future of our society. Like all commencement ceremonies, the pomp and circumstance was full of harmonious songs from the choir and inspirational speeches giving the graduating class excellent pointers, like “use your brain” and to “stay humble and kind.”
Recently, the Manchester Times ran an article from Ron Hart in which he discussed his advice for graduating students at a commencement speech where he was invited as the keynote speaker. It’s clear from Mr. Hart’s view of public education that he hasn’t step foot in a classroom in decades.
According to him, teachers fraudulently lie to students by telling them that their future is what they make out of it, which he attributes to: them not desiring to get a job and doing real work, half of all American workers feeling unhappy with their jobs, and an increase in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans. In English class, these assertions would be called non sequiturs. He went on to say that the government run school system does not want smart, independent thinkers (Wait, isn’t it Donald Trump who said, “I love the poorly educated”?) and that teachers spend more time helping students decide which bathroom to use instead of preparing them to enter the workforce.
One reason in particular why articles like Mr. Hart’s is so upsetting to me is because I know that he’s not the only person who feels this way--who lives in a state of ignorance about some of the wonderful aspects of our public education system. Part of that is the fault of educators, because we generally don’t do a great job of highlighting our own successes, which makes attacks like Mr. Hart’s all too easy to accomplish. In an effort to push back against the negative stigma surrounding public education, I would like to highlight some wonderful things that are happening with the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program at Coffee County Central High School.
The CTE program offers dual credit in 5 different courses, which means that students can simultaneously earn high school and community college credit. The high school is very active in work based learning, and next year we have a VIAM work-based learning experience, which will put several students to work at VIAM (manufacturing plant) so that they have the opportunity to learn real-world skills. This particular type of work-based learning is first of its kind in the state of Tennessee. All of the CTE courses are aligned with some type of post secondary institution, whether it is a Tennessee College of Applied Technology school or a two or four year university. The high school’s CNA program graduates 10 to 12 certified CNA certified students each year, and internships through criminal justice are currently offered with service learning opportunities to follow next school year. Also coming next year, the high school will offer certifications in Safe-serv for culinary, ASE for automotive and a local VIAM manufacturing certificate. All of this is not even taking into account the high school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), cosmetology, welding, and robotics programs which are among the best in the state.
While there can always be room for improvement, Coffee County Central High School is doing the best it can to provide as many post-secondary and work-based opportunities as possible for our students prior to their graduation. Call me an optimist (I’ve been called worse), but after reflecting on the graduates of 2016, I strongly believe that our future is in excellent hands.