WASILLA — Wasilla High School has become a National Coalition of Certification Centers Leadership school, offering more than three NC3 certifications through their extensive Career and Technical Education training programs.
Students at WHS have the opportunity to take nearly 40 separate CTE courses earning industry certifications, college credit, or both. Nationally, high school students that take two consecutive years of CTE classes graduate at a 97 percent rate.
“As we’re going through our rebrand, we’re really trying to promote what we’re good at here at Wasilla and we have always been really good at career and technical education,” said Wasilla High School assistant principal Tyler Gilligan. “We already had construction, woods, robotics, all those things have already been in place. We are just strengthening the programs themselves by embedding certifications in them and really aligning them greater to what industry needs, so instead of just having classes for kids to have fun they’re not only having fun now they’re getting real job skills that align to current industry needs.”
CTE education has grown in the Mat-Su Borough School District as the population of the Valley has grown with it. Colony and Houston high schools offer programs in welding, outdoor power equipment training and small engines as does Redington. Palmer and Wasilla both offer programs in automotive and woods training, but no school in Alaska has the distinction of being an NC3 leadership school. With more than three NC3 certifications, WHS takes a greater role as one the leading institutions in CTE education in the nation.
“It’s super significant in the fact that we now have a national voice, I mean when this whole covid thing hit it wasn’t just working with district office and with other schools, it was getting on web conferences with universities down in the states and secondary schools down in the states and saying what are you guys doing, what are you seeing, how are you going to combat this and one of the big things we worked collaboratively with was like hey, we need to front load our hands on training,” said Gilligan. “We’re not just trying to go NC3 to go NC3, we’re really looking systemically at our programs and saying all right what do we need to change, what do we need to keep the same and how do we improve.”
Giligan said that discussion with colleagues in the Lower 48 helped WHS determine to front-load their CTE courses with hands on training, allowing for a full course instruction even if schools get shut down due to an outbreak. For a $75 dollar course credit at WHS that would cost them up to $1,800 for the university equivalent, WHS students can earn college credits in architectural drafting and personal finance. In construction, WHS offers a certification from the National Center for Construction Education Research and a first aid certification in the wilderness first responder course that will be new next semester. Among other courses such as 3-D game design, robotics, marketing and digital media, students can become NC3 certified in automotive, architectural drafting and woodworking courses.
“One of our goals at WHS Is we want every single student in our school taking at least one advanced placement class and two CTE classes,” said WHS principal Jason Marvel.
Wasilla High School also boasts the largest AP program within MSBSD with 16 course offerings. Assistant principal Karen Bloxsom said at a community meeting in the theater last week that all of the $94 course fees for AP classes have been paid for by the district for the upcoming AP test taking season. WHS had six AP scholars earning a score of three or higher on at least three AP exams and one AP Scholar of Distinction, earning a score of 3.5 or higher on five or more AP tests. WHS students in the AP language tested with an average score of 3.33 last year, higher than the state average of 2.81. WHS students in AP physics recorded an average score of 3.5 with the state average at 2.81. WHS is offering AP physics 2 for the first time ever and 85 percent of the students who tested in AP physics have enrolled.
As the CTE program has been refined at WHS, Gilligan and the administration have examined what job trends are doing and discussed what students need to know with college instructors and workers within the industries. Many courses cross-train students on machines utilized during other courses to help increase interest in the field. Gilligan recalls former students who had their educational experienced changed by CTE, including a former student who needed to fill out his schedule with an elective and ended up loving construction so much he made it his career. Gilligan said that he was surprised to see so many female students sign up for a second semester of automotive but that they were intrigued to know more about vehicles and how to determine what repairs should cost at local shops.
“We’ve had quite a few students who have gotten reengaged in school in general because our CTE teachers can build a specific bond with them,” said Gilligan. “That relational capacity between our instructors and our students actually raises the bar because they just didn’t have a home yet and once they got into these CTE classes they found their home within our school and it made them want to raise the bar for themselves.”
Certifications in automotive at WHS are offered through Snap-On with one certification already being taught and a second that will be introduced next year. Machining certifications are taught through Tormach and another certification new to the United States will also be introduced next year. Electrical certifications at WHS are taught through Greenlee.
“That’s recognizable, it’s stackable and it goes with them through industry in their career,” said Gilligan. “All of these real world industry recognized credentials that are stackable and these are with the tools that industry leaders are working with everyday. The tools they are using aren’t just educational tools, they are the industry example.”
While Mat-Su Career and Technical High School has become one of the top performing high schools in the MSBSD with specific programs designed to prepare students for career readiness, not all trades can be taught in one location. The popularity of the CTE courses taught at WHS and the certifications offered to students have kept many class sizes full as students flock to them.
WHS sophomore Jordan Wille sat in Brian Cook’s architectural drafting class on Thursday designing a basketball court. Wille that she originally took the class because she assumed it would be easy, but has become intrigued by the process of drafting and wants to learn how to build parts.
“I guess the fun part is when you’re all done you get to see it when it’s all complete and you’re like oh cool, I made that. It’s pretty cool building it like the process of it is really fun,” said Wille. “It’s making me learn to like pay attention to detail and detail is very important and not to go halfway. You have to do your best and if you make a mistake it’s okay, we all learn.”