SCHOOLS | July 9, 2021
For years now, Ms. Teriah Abrams has been reminding her students at Mather High School about the importance of taking advantage of the opportunity to earn industry-recognized certifications through the school’s career and technical education (CTE) program. While she believes that the experiences her students have in her classroom are also extremely valuable, she knows, down the line, having these certifications will set her students apart from simply saying “I know how to use Microsoft Word” or “I have soft skills.”
“With students learning from home on Chromebooks, we didn’t have all of the software that we would have used inside the classroom. For example, we didn’t get to do a lot of Python this year,” she said. “However, I still had students who wanted to learn it so they went and studied on their own. I think this grew some friendly competition between them as they wanted to outdo each other in terms of the certifications.”
To keep students engaged throughout the year, Mather’s CTE teachers often adapted their curriculum to solve real-world problems. Mr. Mohammed Ikramullah, who teaches web design at Mather, had students partner with local small businesses to update their websites. Not only did the students gain experience that would help them earn certifications, they also learned about how to build relationships with clients and get more connected with their community.
Across the city, teachers also developed creative solutions to fill the technological gaps that formed when students transitioned to learning from home. Dr. Toinette Flowers, who teaches web development and design at Simeon Career Academy, initially hit a roadblock when not all of her students were able to download Photoshop. So, she got to work helping students find free and comparable alternatives, such as Photopea. This kept her from having to make too many adjustments to her courses, which break down the school year into two sections: theory and performance.
“To start off, students learn about the principles and elements of design. Once they have that theory under their belt, they move to performance, which is all about creating,” she said. “If they are with me for a second year, it’s all performance. I call their teachers their ‘clients,’ and if we get actual clients from outside the building, that’s even better. This prepares them not only for certifications but also for going down the path of higher education and their career, or even starting their own business.”
Knowing that CTE teachers would need support just like their students this past year, Ms. Shadia Daniels, CTE Business and IT Manager, and Dr. Nadine Leblanc, IT Instructional Support Specialist, spearheaded efforts to center wellness, social-emotional development, and social justice within classrooms. They made sure to elevate the expertise of teachers across the city by having them collaborate on professional development sessions and participate in panels so their colleagues could learn from their practices.
As they reflect on certification statistics that far exceeded their expectations, they believe they focused on the right things this past year to catalyze student success and are planning to continue growing these efforts next school year and beyond.
“We received feedback from teachers across the board who told us that they didn’t believe this year could be any good, but the initiatives we engaged them around have saved them and saved their students,” said Dr. Leblanc. “One teacher wrote during our final professional development session letting us know that we turned a ‘bear’ of a year into a productive one.”
And nothing symbolizes that productivity better than the moment a teacher learns their students have earned a certification.
“Every time somebody would pass, we would celebrate them,” said Dr. Flowers. “Giving each student the kudos they deserved was one of my favorite parts of this school year, and it almost made it feel like we were all back in the classroom together again.”
This is the first part of a three-part series about the incredible achievements of CTE students and teachers this past school year. Make sure to check the CPS blog next week for a new CTE story.