Sowing the Seeds of CTE: Unique K-12 Pathways Flourish in the North Far North

2023 K-12 Spotlight

It’s reflected in the shimmering surface of California’s deepest lake. And in the state’s most awe-inspiring forests, it’s clear-cut

Thanks to Strong Workforce Program (SWP) support, the impact of early-access career education was perhaps more visible than ever in 2023. Whether it was building a K-12 pipeline to help “Keep Tahoe Blue,” or re-inventing resource sciences in the Redwoods, the North Far North invested in its future like never before, connecting the next generation of hands-on heroes directly to the region’s highest-stakes industries. 

‘Tahoe Science Pathway’ opens doors to environmental science careers

“Our local agencies don’t need people with biology degrees,” says Isaiah Tannaci, CTE Coordinator for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District. “They need people with certificate training and some educational background.”

It’s a familiar sentiment in the North Far North, where widening skills gaps have compelled public and private employers to seek a new approach. The pipeline for environmental sciences careers – such as those in water resources – has run especially dry, making it harder for industries to rely solely on community colleges to produce qualified prospects.

The solution? Prime the pump earlier by introducing outdoors-minded middle and high school students to high-demand – and eventually high-paying – natural resources pathways.

Through the ‘Tahoe Science Pathway’, which debuted in 2022, Strong Workforce Program funding is making it possible for students like South Tahoe High School junior Sayers Tanner to connect to hands-on CTE experiences in California’s outstanding outdoors. Through programs like water quality testing in the Truckee River, K-12 educators are setting a foundation for the future of the region’s ever-more-essential natural resources industries. And while not all participants will go on to forest science careers, they’re sure to pick up bit and pieces to help them get where they’re going. 

“One way to avoid student loan debt is to work while in college, and my Tahoe Science class will allow me to get really good jobs that pay a good amount,” Tanner reasons.

PHESI program marks a fresh approach to rural recruiting woes

“I would love to move back to my hometown and be a nurse there,” says Azusa Pacific University nursing student Cate Baker. 

 That’s music to the ears of Darren Beatty, Chief Operating Officer of Plumas District Hospital, who cites critical “shortages in every sector of our industry” for the demise of rural hospitals in many North Far North counties. As someone who has struggled to keep his Plumas County hospital staffed, Beatty knows the pain of rural “brain-drain” first-hand. Naturally, he jumped at the chance to team with Plumas Charter School and the Strong Workforce Program to spark the Plumas Health Career Education Spring Institute (PHESI). 

“The recruiting process is especially challenging in rural areas,” says Beatty, who matched high school students from pilot school Plumas Charter to hands-on opportunities in his busy community hospital to help develop the PHESI pipeline.  

The one-of-a-kind program gave high school students like Baker a life-changing window into the reality of rural healthcare careers, and for some, a reason to remain in their hometown. 

“We had the opportunity to job shadow and have experiences similar to clinical rotations with ten different departments at the hospital,” says Baker. “It was such a big deal to be a student in high school and get to do these things.”

Redwoods Resource Rally puts down regional roots

The Redwoods aren’t the only things aging in Northern California. Employees in the timber industry – from loggers and sawmill operators to foresters, wildlife biologists, and fishery techs – are retiring at record rates, creating what some would call a hiring crisis.

North Coast Agricultural Partners calls it an opportunity. 

The Far North alliance, encompassing 16 high school agriculture programs in Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity, Mendocino, and Lake counties, hosted the Redwoods Region Resource Rally in September 2023, inviting 200 students to a day-long industry rally. Hailed by one participant as “not just a regular career day,” the event connected juniors and seniors to hands-on CTE activities in the timber and ag industries, supported by experts representing regional educators and employers.

“It’s definitely the next level up on the ladder of workplace learning,” says Sandy Dale, Agriculture Program Specialist for the North Coast Agriculture Partners. “Students interact with industry professionals and participate in activities that are representative of what they might be doing in the field.”

Seniors have the option to attend a May follow-up event called “Boots on the Ground,” where they can pre-apply for real jobs with industry partners, getting a foot in the door like never before. 

“The rally has really snowballed,” says Dale. “The more industry folks that hear about it, the more they want to participate. 

CTE expands 500% as Wheatland Union students Get Focused.

With the launch of seven CTE pathways in 2019, Wheatland Union High School was determined to invest in the future of the Yuba-Sutter region. Since then, participation in the career-focused pathways has compounded… with considerable interest.

As of 2023, participation has ballooned to 100 students, with pathway options meanwhile doubling to 14. The boost is attributable, at least in part, to the Get Focused, Stay Focused partnership with Yuba College, which puts WUHS CTE students on a comprehensive, 10-year plan that encompasses higher education, employment and career support.

“They’re not just working on a four-year traditional education plan, but they’re really planning out their lives 10 years beyond high school, and then back planning from there,” says Carol Keiser, Director of CTE & College Readiness and Business Teacher in the Wheatland Union High School District. “They can use that time purposefully to gain the skills that they need to start moving into careers that pay higher than minimum wage right out of high school.” 

Strong Workforce-funded CTE pathways at WUHS include Animal Science, Agriculture, Patient Care, Game Design and Integration, Video Production, Education, and Public Safety. In some cases, dual enrollment agreements with Yuba College allows participants to earn college credit while still in high school. 

“Creating those kinds of relationships … students are really starting to take more ownership of their high school education and use that time purposefully to gain the skills they need to start moving into careers that pay higher than minimum wage right out of high school,” concludes Keiser. 

Siskiyou’s ‘superhighway’ merges K-12 with college

They’re starting in the Middle. And with the support of the Siskiyou Works “superhighway,” they’re bound to end up on top. 

Through its Ready for Work and Preparing for Work initiatives, the Siskiyou Works nonprofit is planting the seed for CTE as early as middle school, developing the K-12 curriculum to set the groundwork for high-paying careers in essential industries. Both programs took a leap forward in 2023 by adding institutional participants and building a framework for internships in the Far North.

“The idea is to build a superhighway, where there’s lots of on-ramps and off-ramps to certification employment,” says Siskiyou Works Director Marie Caldwell. “The goal is we have that through-pipeline from elementary, to middle, to high school, to community college.”

December 2023