Blending academic studies with technical knowledge and employable skills: AAPS celebrates Career Technical Education (CTE) Month during February

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News

Imagine graduating from high school with the skills to step into a good-paying job.

That’s more than a dream for Career & Technical Education students at Ann Arbor Public Schools.

CTE high school students gain experience in industry while gaining access to professional student organizations via conferences and competitions.

AAPS offers training for students in the following skilled, high-demand careers:

  • Auto Service Technology
  • Business, Finance, Marketing, and Technology
  • Construction Trades / Homebuilding 
  • Cosmetology & Cosmetology Handbook
  • Culinary and Hospitality 
  • Health Science 
  • Computer Science and Cybersecurity

Students from all five high schools can enroll in CTE programs, although each program is not located in each high school. Many students thus spend their days at their home school, and at the school offering the program they’ve chosen.

For instance, homebuilding is held at the building site in a local neighborhood. Students from all five high schools are enrolled in the program, with half attending in the morning and a half in the afternoon.

Cosmetology is held off-site at the Huron Valley Beauty Academy in Saline, with 17 students from AAPS high schools attending afternoon classes there. Students graduate after two years with their cosmetology license and 1500 hours of work-based experience after passing the state board tests

Culinary classes are held at Pioneer and Huron.

Automotive classes are held at Pioneer and Huron.

Skyline’s CTE engineering program is a magnet program for the building as well as for the district, while all five high schools offer their own engineering classes.

Marketing is offered at all five high schools, while business and entrepreneurship is offered at four of the schools along with Accounting One and Accounting Two.

Cybersecurity is offered at Huron and will be offered at Huron and Skyline next year. (Cybersecurity is offered at Pioneer as well, but is not a CTE course at this time.) Computer science at all five

Health Science is housed at Pioneer and Huron, and students leave with a strong skill set in health sciences.

All CTE teachers have work experience in the field in which they teach and all state-approved CTE programs have state standards that must be met.

Certifications have become a priority from the state of Michigan through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, a federal grant.

There are also agreements in place with Washtenaw Community College that allow CTE students to earn high school and college credits simultaneously.

“We’re trying to get our students certifications that will help them get into the workforce quicker and at a higher pay rate,” said Tom Pachera, who heads the district’s CTE program.

While all sorts of exciting things are continually happening within the AAPS CTE program, the following are just a few highlights:

Pioneer auto body shop expansion to be completed this summer

Ken Lewis said that when he started teaching automotive classes at Pioneer, classes were small because the consensus was that the automotive industry was dying and that kids weren’t really passionate about cars anymore.

That’s not the case, he said.

“Kids love cars,” he said. And they are really passionate about being here and learning and gaining new skills. You just have to reach out to them and find a way to link what their passion is with the knowledge and information that you’d have to give them and show them how they can use that in their life and in the future to be successful.”

He explained that Pioneer’s automotive area has been around for decades with no updates. That will change this summer, with renovations set to be completed by the fall of 2023.

“We’ll make it look nice so that the students come in and they feel welcome; so they don’t feel like they’re at the end of the building in a kind of dingy part of the school,” he said.

He said kids can leave his program ready to earn more money than some college grads with a four-year degree.

” So having a class like this just sets up a lot of kids out there who may not want to take the college path to be in a really good position to have a really good life for themselves in the future,” said Lewis.

New culinary teacher at Pioneer

Pioneer’s new culinary arts teacher Melissa Richards believes students should leave high school with basic life skills, including cooking, and applauds the way CTE programs do just that.

“The reason I took the job is, I love to cook, it’s my passion,” she said. “I’ve been a chef for the past 13 years and I just want to instill that love in the kids.”

Updated new school store underway at Pioneer High School

Pioneer’s new school store located in the former Career Center office is not only popular with students looking for a quick snack during lunchtime, or Pioneer swag, it provides a real-life work experience for the CTE Marketing School Store Operations students who work in the store in various capacities from working with customers to ordering products.

The class runs during both lunches. Between lunches, they work on store issues.

The store is going through a revamp, and students will get to meet with sales reps and choose an entirely new line of products to sell.

Business teacher Brian Guastella teaches Marketing School Store Operations as well as other business classes and a work-based learning class in which students get credit for the work they do outside of school as an actual career in the actual workplace.

Guastella is a big proponent of CTE.

“The plan behind Career Technical Education is to help students prepare for next steps after high school,” he said, noting that could be college readiness or content career specific, such as business and marketing, auto labs, culinary arts, homebuilding, computer sciences, etc. “As a program, we try to do everything we can to give our students as many experiences as possible to help them succeed after high school.”

To learn more about the CTE opportunities Ann Arbor offers, contact Tom Pachera at: or visit your high school counselor

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