By Parker Butler
Rockbridge County High School is revamping the way students learn technical skills under the direction of its new CTE supervisor, Steven Wilder.
CTE, or Career and Technical Education, offers high school students preparation for a variety of well-paid and high-skilled careers, according to the Association of Career and Technical Education.
At RCHS, technical education is offered as an elective course, teaching skills such as auto technology, construction, culinary arts, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), electronics, and agriculture.
The program has been a part of the RCHS curriculum for as long as the school has been around. In fact, the CTE center was located on RCHS’s campus before the school was even built.
The Floyd S. Kay Technical Education Center opened in 1976 to provide young adults and high school students with a CTE education. Rockbridge County High School opened in 1992 and continued to offer the Center’s CTE program. Since then, CTE has proven to be very popular with students. In the Class of 2016, 129 out of 251 graduating seniors, or 51 percent, had completed the two-year CTE program.
However, as the 2016-2017 academic year approached, the Rockbridge County school board and the RCHS administration decided it was time for a program upgrade, and they’re letting Wilder lead the way.
“From my observations and working relationship with Mr. Wilder, he is a relentless trailblazer that places the needs of students before himself,” RCHS Principal Haywood Hand said in an email. “He knows how to connect with the community and build relationships that are based on loyalty, trust, and dependability.”
Wilder’s CTE teaching career began 12 years ago in Polk County, Florida. In 2010, Wilder and his wife moved to Amherst County in Virginia, where he taught CTE for the next five years at the local high school. This year is Wilder’s first working at RCHS, and the administration has asked him to give the program everything he’s got.
“I was asked to increase dual enrollment offerings, create interesting pathways that lead to exceptional careers, and implement a STEM Academy,” Wilder said. (STEM refers to courses in science, technology, engineering and math.)
Wilder is updating established programs such as agriculture as well as launching new programs such as hospitality and tourism. He is also exploring internship opportunities for students.
Rockbridge County Assistant Superintendent Phillip Thompson said the program overhaul will attract a different kind of student.
“There are so many students who are not motivated by academics,” Thompson said. “They just want to learn a skill and they want to go to work and they want to use their hands and they want to be outside doing things,” Thompson said.
“We hope they’re leaving with a certification of some sort that they can gain at the high school in one of these trades so they can go out and get a job doing something right away in one of these trades.”
Thompson and Hand both agree that a refurbished CTE program can lead to more students being workforce-ready by the time they graduate.
“A lot of kids were graduating and didn’t know what to do with themselves. It was either military or college for the most part,” Thompson said. “Now, it could be military, it could be college, or it could be a trade and they could leave the high school and have a certification already in hand and ready to go.”
“High profile careers within the community require…deliberate and intentional relationship with corporations and businesses in the local community and beyond,” Hand said. “In order to reap the rewards, you must be directly connected with the jobs that exist in your community.”