Kent ISD — U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten listened to Amiah Romero explain how she and her work partner will remove an engine from a car in order to study it.
Scholten, a Democratic congresswoman from Grand Rapids, admitted that she was impressed with what the senior at Grand Rapids’ CA Frost Environmental Science Academy and her partner, Caledonia senior Isaiah Applewhite, had planned.
“I went to college and law school, and I certainly could never do that,” said Scholten as she watched the two work on the car.
Scholten spoke with students on April 13 as she toured the Kent Career Tech Center in preparation for the rollout of a bill she is co-sponsoring, the Honoring Vocational Education Act.
The bipartisan bill would add career and technical education and vocational education as an official designation on the U.S. Census.
Census Bureau data is often used to determine funding and policy, but does not currently include a category that recognizes individuals who attend job training programs, trade schools, internships and union apprenticeships as earning postsecondary, non-degree awards. Those students usually are recognized only as obtaining a high school diploma.
“The big part is showing the value of credentials in certifications for students and understanding things like apprenticeships and internships for students are just as important as some of those opportunities to go to college or those post-secondary options,” said Tech Center Principal Joe Lienesch. “It is showing value for the skills those students are developing and the academics they are going through to achieve certification credentials.”
The economic growth happening in West Michigan is an indication that companies are looking to invest and when considering a community, one of the questions asked is what level of education is in that area, Scholten said.
“We are significantly underserving ourselves as a community and as a country when we are not valuing technical training programs like this and only looking at degrees. The learning that is happening here is certainly higher education.”
A Place of Discovery
Amiah said the Tech Center has helped her find a career that she enjoys, which means she is less anxious about life after graduation.
“I would never have known I love cars if this program wasn’t available for me,” she said. “I am grateful it is, and now I know this is something I am passionate about and I can look forward to it as a possible career… and hope other students get to take advantage of it.”
Comstock Park High junior Maddox Dodson, who is in the Tech Center’s construction program, said the curriculum and hands-on training is good job preparation.
“It is a wonderful opportunity,” said Caledonia High senior Aiden Lane, who noted he is joining the U.S. Marines after graduation. “You learn a lot about construction and you gain a little bit of knowledge along with being able to see and learn about all the different opportunities you can pick from in that field.”
‘I would never have known I love cars if this program wasn’t available for me.’— Amiah Romero, senior at Grand Rapids’ CA Frost Environmental Science Academy
Scholten said the comments students and staff provided gave her insight into the Tech Center, its programs and potential.
“You can read about something on paper and get a sense of how unique or special it is, but coming here and seeing the students at work really brings it to light,” she said. “Hearing from their perspective about why a program like this is so meaningful for them and for their career advancement, these are the stories I keep in mind and take back to Washington as I am voting and looking for funding opportunities back in the district.”
Expanding the Possibilities
Kent ISD has welcomed various state and federal legislators in the last several months. Superintendent Ron Koehler said it is important to have those in the state and federal government understand not only the range of opportunities, but the importance and benefits of offering them so Kent ISD and area districts can continue to expand what is available.
“Next month, we are going to embark on a career and talent development visioning process and we hope to, with community support, double the number of students who have the opportunity to participate in career exploration and training opportunities,” Koehler said, adding that recognition of CTE and vocational training career paths helps boost efforts for expansion.
“We hope that (Scholten) saw that we are fulfilling a very important niche in our economy,” he said. “(We are) training young people for careers that — absent a facility like this, absent resources like this — it would be very hard to meet the needs of our local economy. But we are filling that niche, and there is a greater need.”
More from Kent ISD:
• Sharing their voices
• Districts request more time to spend federal funds