The Bound Brook High School Innovative Career Technical Education and Work Based Learning program was a recognized program in the annual School Leader awards.

The program, which serves about 150 students in grades 9 to 12, increases high school and post-secondary graduation attainment, fosters a sense of self-efficacy and encourages a desire for lifelong learning, earning a college degree and exploring career pathways in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics related areas.

William Ross, the district’s supervisor of CTE and work-based learning, was instrumental in getting the program started in the fall of 2019. David LePoidevin, a consultant, signed on to assist with the program two years later.

In its School Leader award application, the district notes that the program has become “a robust college and career readiness program” – one that has resulted in placing students in top universities. It has also led to partnerships with companies such as Phoenix Tube, Flexbiosys, Inc., Chelsea Assisted Senior Living and Custom Alloy. 

The program is meant to address the needs of all Bound Brook High School students while directly closing the gap between the school transition to sustainable jobs that require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree.

The program’s goals include promoting greater high school and college graduation rates within the diverse student population, fostering the soft skills for post-secondary college and career readiness and providing college experiences to all students while they are in high school. 

Career technical education and work-based learning programs sometimes “fall through the proverbial cracks because careers and college are positioned as an either/or for students’ life pathways; and we often forget that a career is an education and college is work,” said Dr. Alvin L. Freeman, the district’s superintendent. “The teachers love the program because it applies ideas from math and science and even our English language and social studies teachers see students talking about the history and development of career paths in their content areas, too!”

The program gets high marks from students as well, Freeman said. “Students love the sense of relevance, purpose, responsibility and respect by having career technical education courses of applied learning; they see the theoretical become actual, when they build or create or develop projects in computer science, advanced manufacturing, auto mechanics, and cosmetology/make up design,” he said. 

The program is funded by the district, Raritan Valley Community College P-Tech, Perkins and College Readiness Now grants, an Amazon Future Engineer grant and a generous donation by one of the district’s partners.

“Funding for CTE/WBL is precarious and plentiful all at once,” Freeman said. “We have very generous industrial partners who have given us over $150,000. Our grants renew yearly or can extend from a three- to five-year cycle. Also, we have been fortunate enough to get large and small grants, including a new $5,000 AP computer science grant our high school principal, Edward Smith, secured for us.”

Through the program, students acquire industry credentials that are translatable between companies and career pathways. They also work with CEOs and their employees to get a sense of potential career trajectories, with the focus being computer science, advanced manufacturing, auto mechanics, cosmetology, heating and air conditioning and health care/fitness education. Moreover, the program addresses equity in education by creating postsecondary experiences in high school for first-generation college students, students with all different learning styles and students who are English language learners. 

The CTE/WBL program also supports mentorships, job shadowing with industry partner leaders and paid and unpaid work placements, so students can begin a career pathway during high school. In these dual credit courses, internships and apprenticeship placements, students develop skills in jobs with industry partners. 

Christopher Lemire and Alison Gutierrez, two of Bound Brook’s students, are perfect examples of how the program is helping students, according to Freeman. “They have been in the advanced manufacturing program since its inception,” he said. “They are being actively recruited by multiple industry partners for careers in extrusion and metal fabrication engineering, starting at $18 per hour, which will grow when they graduate. But the biggest reward for their CTE/WBL education to them is that Raritan Valley Community College has asked them, upon graduation, to return as professors in the Machining Fundamentals program that they took just two years ago.”

Thomas A. Parmalee is NJSBA’s managing editor.