Posted by: Carol | April 28, 2011

A High Tide Lifts All Boats: STEM Programs in Orange County

One of the old preconceptions that CTE is constantly battling is the notion that it exists solely as an alternative for those students who can’t hack it academically and aren’t college-bound. This is enormously frustrating for many CTE professionals and programs, for a number of reasons – first because it suggests that the only way for a student to be considered truly “successful,” is to attain a 4-year college degree (a topic deserving of several posts of its own) and secondly, because it suggests that the skills and knowledge that can be acquired through CTE courses and programs are low-hanging fruit – courses that lack rigor or require minimal academic engagement. There are other reasons as well, but we’re going to focus on that last one in this post – debunking it, that is.

With the progressive bridging between science, technology, and industry, the gap between the skills required to be successful in most CTE courses and the skills required to be successful in college-preparatory classes is shrinking at a rapid pace. This is no more evident than when you take a look at the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs being funded in part through CTE Pathways Initiative grants at Esperanza and Back Bay High Schools in Orange County, CA.

Esperanza High School in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, hosts an Engineering and Manufacturing Academy (not a CPA) which is a program of study with a sequence of courses. The program’s courses are articulated with Fullerton Community College, as well as two 4-year colleges: California State University Fullerton (CSUF), and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who accept them as prerequisites for their engineering degrees. And most recently, the University of California, Irvine (UCI) has planned changes to its application for high school and community college  students, allowing those who participated in Esperanza High’s program to check a special designation for the engineering degree at that school. Unsurprisingly, this type of recognition from 4-year institutions is valuable to families and students. It also goes a long way to overcoming old stereotypes about the quality of CTE courses.

The high school’s traditional wood and metal shops have been transformed to manufacturing and engineering labs, containing state-of-the-art machines and tools that are actually used by engineering professionals. Both high and low achieving students participate in the program, collaborating closely and recognizing the strengths and abilities that each bring to the work. The program has grown from year to year on the strength of students promoting it by word of mouth. There’s no higher endorsement for elective courses. It’s an amazing program with excited and engaged students acquiring real skills and applying knowledge from their other courses in relevant ways. Take a look at the video below:

While Esperanza High’s Engineering and Manufacturing Academy is an exciting example of a high-performing CTE program at a comprehensive high school, similarly inspiring work is taking place at Back Bay High School, an Orange County continuation high school.

Back Bay High in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District is a credit recovery institution, which allows students who struggled in traditional school settings to complete their high school diplomas. It’s also home to one of Orange County’s most exciting energy & environmental technology programs – the Back Bay High School Solar Program. With SB70 funding acting as seed money to purchase the first solar panel, and local industry partners as well as Golden West Community College providing support, the district made a commitment to this first-of-its kind solar installation program. It’s since become a model for other programs of its type, with an industry approved curriculum and high levels of student engagement and success.

Both of these programs illustrate how powerfully CTE can change the lives of students. They help students to set their sights high, prove to them the relevance of their educations, and increase their skills and abilities. They fill their futures with possibilities.

For more information on these programs, please contact Alisa McCord at the Orange County Department of Education.


  1. this is an excellent article and I enjoyed the videos very much. We need to get this out to everyone in CTE. How are we marketing the BLOG?

  2. […] overview of the evolution of STEM-based CTE programs in Orange County high schools (also featured here), and Robertson talked extensively on the details of running a CTE summer camp for middle school […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: