Career Technical Education (CTE) Foundation Invests in Agriculture Education Projects

Written By: Brytann Busick
Published: March 4, 2019

This year, the Career Technical Education (CTE) Foundation has approved $343,652 in grant funding for 22 technical education programs among 11 Sonoma County schools. Now in its sixth funding cycle, the CTE Foundation has invested over $3 million since its founding in 2013, creating new programs that connect students to employers for career exploration and skill-building and spurring over 100 new classes in local schools that focus on career and technical education in industries including engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, health, and the construction trades.
Amber Figueroa, CTE Associate Executive Director/Programs said that the CTE foundation incentivizes schools to develop and implement new and enhanced CTE course and programs through their competitive grants program.

“Career Technical Education takes an integrated approach where you are applying academic learning to technical and soft skills development that align with a particular industry sector, like agriculture,” Figueroa said. “It essentially makes student’s education relevant and connected to a career available to them after high school.”

The 2019-2020 funding adds two new schools to the organization’s portfolio and new classes with topics from robotics to welding technology that will expand opportunities for at least 400 students throughout the county, including more than 50 girls who will enroll in a Women in Engineering pathway at Rancho Cotati High School.

Figueroa said that CTE grant funding allowed Cole Smith to purchase a shipping container, which his CLAD Women’s Engineering students will turn into a vertical farming operation. His students will be in charge of designing, building and then growing and cultivating produce in the shipping container.

Smith, who has been a shop teacher at Ranch Cotati for 8 years, said that, throughout his career, the CTE Foundation has helped him to fund many different programs and big builds.

“This year, we are completing their third off-the-grid tiny house and the shipping container build is the next big project we decided to take on,” Smith said.

Smith said that he was motivated to start this project so that he could incorporate lessons about healthy food and nutrition in his classes.

“We are going to build a vertical farm in a 45-foot shipping container,” Smith said. “Students will get the experience of participating in the whole build and will also get to grow all kinds of leafy greens and learn about healthy eating.”

He said that it important to him to create hands on, real-world experiences for his students because hopefully, these projects will inspire students and equip them with practical skill sets.

“In this project, students will do metal fabrication, plumbing and electrical work, and farming,” Smith said. “We will start with hydroponics and then hopefully, we can move to aquaponics in the future.”

Figueroa said that Smith does an excellent job integrating technical skills and soft skills training with academic and career exploration.

“Cole’s classes expose his students to career opportunities while feeding their need to explore and be academically prepared for life after high school,” Figueroa said.

Examples of other programs that received funding include farm to table, culinary, engineering and construction programs. Figueroa said that CTE grant funding is aligned with Sonoma County workforce needs.

“The ag industry is one of the cornerstone industries of Sonoma County and it supports the health of our economy,” Figueroa said. “It is critically important for grants to promote careers and opportunities in ag for our local students.”

CTE Foundation has partnered with the Sonoma County Fair Foundation and Sonoma County Office of Education to launch a new initiative aimed at broadening student awareness of careers in 21st Century Agriculture. The Innovate Ag Education project launches in April with a special professional development opportunity – the Innovate Ag Education Fellowship – for high school ag teachers and relevant instructional partners that introduces them to Smart/Precision farming technologies used in local operations and the key technical skills and mindsets required for success in today’s ag careers.

In addition to grants for schools, the CTE Foundation invests in programs that increase relevance for student learning from the classroom to real life, and students enrolled in these programs are engaged, active learners who graduate at higher rates and are better prepared for the rigors of both college and career than their non-CTE counterparts. One program, the 3rd Annual Food & Beverage Manufacturing Career Summit on April 16, 2019, is designed to help junior and senior high school students explore the wide variety of career opportunities within the agriculture, food and beverage manufacturing industries. At the event, students will hear from a panel of industry representatives, meet with employers, experience hands-on activities, and learn about the educational pathways to get into careers that match their interests and career goals.

If you are a student or employer and would like to participate, visit www.ctesonomacounty.org/summit or email bjewell@ctesonomacounty.org

To learn more about the CTE Foundation, programs, funding or donor opportunities, contact Kathy Goodacre at (707) 708-7081 kgoodacre@ctesonomacounty.org. To tour a CTE classroom, contact Leslie Simmons at (707) 755-5722 or lsimmons@ctesonomacounty.org.

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