As Jodi and I make our way around the state discussing common sense solutions to the problems plaguing the New Jersey government and communities, we're seeing the best NJ has to offer. With three or four events/visits/speeches/meetings daily, we're seeing it all!
This week we were invited to tour Mercer County Technical School.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) has replaced the old school "vocational tech," which many of us grew up knowing. Today, kids in high school have an incredible opportunity to balance their classroom work with real work experience and skills training. From agriculture to cosmetology and auto repair to the culinary arts, Mercer County students have tremendous choices.
David Nash hosted our tour and introduced us to Mick Orfe, the director of vocational education, and two of their outstanding instructors, Chef Scott Engle and auto body instructor Dylan McKinney.
We also met a rising star student, Francia Theresa Augusta, who represented the program and herself better than most adults ten years older. The positive energy throughout the classrooms and the smiles on almost every face was not something you see in typical high schools around the country. It was a breath of fresh air for sure.
The best part was the practical life and career skills being taught to young people who were eager to participate. The issue in New Jersey is that we have an education system geared toward high school kids focusing on the next expected step to go on to college.
The reality is that for many young people, it's simply not the best option. For many it is and they willingly take on what could be six figures in debt to go on to a desired profession. But for kids who are unsure about the future, going into massive debt for an unknown may not be the best choice.
There are young people, as we hear from callers throughout the morning, who were in their 20s and already looking to buy a house. The most important thing we took away is that a practical, technical education in high school through a "vo-tech" or CTE program is not a barrier to college. In fact, many kids successfully manage a sharing time in high school between traditional classroom settings and CTE and still go off to college with a trade skill that they can use anytime.
It's a smart move for many kids. And New Jersey has some of the best.