I’ve heard it several times: “Schools should teach this stuff.”

This statement is almost always in reference to the hands-on skills that are critical to success in adult life and in real-world careers. Business and finance skills that translate to any industry, trade skills like carpentry and fabrication, skills in industries like health care, agriculture, food and human services.

At Forest Lake Area High School, we do teach that stuff.

Our school is uniquely positioned to provide real-world, hands-on learning in these areas, making sure our students graduate ready for the next step in pursuing their dream. I can say without a doubt that our high school has the strongest career and tech education (CTE) program in the area, and one of the best programs in the state.

Our program stands out for a variety of reasons . First of all, we offer a wide variety of courses across every career pathway that has been identified by the state of Minnesota. These courses see robust participation from our students with 93% of our students taking a CTE course at some time during their high school career. This statistic not only speaks to the variety and prevalence of CTE courses within our school, but also to the talented instructors who teach these courses. It takes a special kind of dedication to teach courses that often require continuing education to stay current on the latest technology and innovations in the field. Our teachers are dedicated, know their subjects well, and are skilled at engaging students in their subject areas.

Along with the variety of course selection, our CTE program also offers a large variety of real-world career certifications that place students in a better position for a job or internship before or after graduation. This year we offer five different job-ready certifications, and next year we will offer 11. These certifications include things like Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification, and cover career fields in business, culinary service, veterinary, health care and skilled trades.

The benefits of these certifications is that a student can graduate from high school ready for a job or internship that will provide additional work experience, earned income and a step along the pathway in students’ journey in a fulfilling career.

In recent years, particularly with the dramatically-rising cost of a college education, schools have looked to offer a broader range of options that can help prepare their students for a successful life and career, whether that career requires college, a skilled trade or a variety of other job skills.

Forest Lake Area High School has been a leader in this area for many years. When other districts cut back on their CTE programs, we continued to offer and build these important programs. That consistency has helped build the successful program that our students are benefiting from today.

Jim Caldwell is the principal of Forest Lake Area High School.

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