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Fostering community involvement.


INFORMING THE COMMUNITY ABOUT THE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES AT YOUR SCHOOL may be a great way to foster community involvement and support for programming. At the Smyth Career and Technology Center (SCTC) in Marion, Virginia, the first Community Day and Car Show was designed and implemented to disseminate information about our institution, and to dispel in our community misconceptions about career and technical education (CTE). Three population groups were targeted: potential students, parents and educators from throughout the Smyth County School Division.

Our primary target was potential students, which included high school, middle school and especially elementary students. As future stakeholders, these students need to understand that the career center is a place for all students. Our course offerings and programs allow graduates to enter the workforce, fully licensed or credentialed, immediately upon high school graduation; students also have the opportunity to earn dual credit hours that transfer to a community college or four-year university.

As is the case in many communities, the career center has been thought of only as a training center for students not planning to go to college. Great strides have been made to dispel this perception through the implementation of new and/or dual credit class offerings, class tours, informational presentations, and the input and direction of a CTE advisory board made up of various business and industry leaders, community college representatives, school administrators, parents and students.

The second group targeted was parents. Many of the misconceptions developed and expressed by students in respect to CTE come directly from parental perceptions and lack of knowledge and experience in CTE. Informed parents will quickly realize that CTE careers are in high demand and are on the fast track to become some of the most lucrative jobs of the future. Others within our community, including members of our school system, have not been exposed to, or totally informed about, all the different opportunities available at SCTC and how CTE curricula and competencies address and complement standards of learning. Our third target population was teachers, administrators and guidance counselors within our school division. A well-in-informed educator has a tremendous impact on a student in respect to recognizing their strengths and interests and directing them toward a fulfilling career choice.

Planning and Implementation

Instructors and students took the lead in the planning and implementation of Community Day. The auto body, auto tech, precision machining, welding and drafting departments planned and organized the anchor event which was a car show. In order to attract our population targets we incorporated various other activities. The nurse aide and practical nursing departments, along with Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), conducted several free health screenings. The cosmetology department orchestrated games for children, face-painting, and a cake walk. The culinary arts department prepared and sold lunches. The criminal justice instructor and students directed traffic and assisted with parking.

Members of Skills USA, another CTE student organization, led guided tours of the facility. Representatives from Virginia Highlands Community College, Wytheville Community College, and military recruiters were there to talk with high school students and parents. Numerous opportunities were available for our guests to win door prizes. Each department/ class provided a door prize in addition to a $25 gift card for adults, a $25 gift card for a visiting educator, a $100 gift card for a visiting high school student, and a Wii game system for an elementary or middle school student. We had approximately 50 student helpers, all of whom were eligible for one of five $25 cash prizes.

An Event Success

The success of our first Community Day and Car Show was well beyond our expectations. An estimated 600 people attended this event in spite of inclement weather. Forty-five cars were registered for the car show, all 22 members of our faculty and staff were in attendance, 46 students volunteered for the entire day, and all food items were sold out. Without a doubt, this event brought in the most people through the building since it opened in 1971.

Several of our guests were former graduates who had not been back since they graduated; this made the event somewhat of a homecoming and reunion. Most of them expressed their pride in the school and were very complimentary of the improvements that have been made such as the addition of new programs, dual enrollment opportunities, and the updating of the original programs. Several teachers from throughout the division were in attendance and most brought their families. Our division superintendent and a former superintendent were also there to show their support.

Through a debriefing process, the faculty and staff has already compiled a list of strengths and weaknesses, do's and don'ts, additions and deletions; plans are already in the making for next year's event.

Fostering a Sense of Ownership

The center provides the secondary students in the county with opportunities to become skilled and knowledgeable in various occupations, preparing them for the workforce immediately upon graduation from high school or for postsecondary educational opportunities. Students are also introduced to, and participate in, service-learning projects through Skills USA and HOSA. But because the center is located off campus from the three high schools it serves, it lacks a sense of belonging to, or ownership by, the communities it serves. The implementation of the Community Day and Car Show is the result of a desire to foster a sense of pride in CTE and establish a sense of joint ownership by the combined communities in Smyth County. The event brings the individual communities of the three high schools served together as one and showcases the skills and unity of its student population.

Sam McKinney is principal/CTE director of Smyth Career and Technology Center in Marion, Virginia. He can be contacted at

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Author:McKinney, Sam
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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