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December 5, 2023

PVUSD retools its Career Technical Education program

WATSONVILLE—Watsonville High School student Juan Baltazar spent some time in the school’s new barn Wednesday, caring for the cow he is raising to sell this summer during the Santa Cruz County Fair. 

He said he has been involved in raising animals since he was in the seventh grade, and that he is considering making a career out of it.

“I find a lot of interest in agriculture and raising animals,” he said. 

In addition to learning about animal husbandry, Baltazar, 16, predicts that he will also gain real-world experience when the time comes to sell the cow. That is precisely the outcome Pajaro Valley Unified School District leaders are hoping for.

Baltazar is part of the school’s Agriculture and Natural Resources department, which is one component of Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s recently retooled Career Technical Education (CTE) program.

This re-envisioning of how the district readies its students for the workforce began last year, when the district took over its CTE program from the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. 

Most notably, each high school now has its own “signature pathway.” These areas of specialty will allow the district to focus its resources in one place, rather than duplicating programs at each school.

Building on that idea, students will be able to take signature pathway classes at other schools, with the district providing transportation.

“The goal is that all signature pathways will be accessible to students at the other sites,” said CTE Coordinator Julie Edwards. 

The Agriculture Business signature pathway was a natural fit for WHS, which had a well-established program in place on which to build. About 500 students are in the program now, said agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Paulina Correia.

Students receive hands-on experience and academic work, and also get to connect with industry professionals from such companies as Driscolls, Monterey Mushrooms and Martinelli’s,  Correia said. 

“Many people don’t understand that agriculture is a business beyond what they see in the fields,” she said.  

Aptos High’s signature pathway is biotechnology, which will roll out in the fall. Pajaro Valley High’s focus is on technology, with its Information and Support Services pathway.

The courses are part of California Department of Education’s CTE program, which outlines 15 overarching industry sectors to help school districts build their own programs. See them at bit.ly/37hFy5b.

FARM WORK Juan Baltazar tends to a cow inside the Watsonville High School livestock barn. —Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

PVUSD’s new system is a shift away from the days when vocational education was considered distinct from college-track studies, Edwards said.

Nearly all of the classes are considered “A-G” college-level courses, which are  required for entry into UC and CSU systems.

“We’re teaching career skills,” Edwards said. “Collaboration, teamwork, time management, the ability to have a conversation and ask good questions. The kinds of skills everybody has to have to be successful, period. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in – there are skills you take with you everywhere you go.”

In addition to their signature pathways, each school also offers several other areas of focus in their CTE programs. These include criminal justice, graphic design, medical technology and construction, just to name a few.

At the same time, PVUSD has partnered with Cabrillo College to offer dual enrollment for some courses, allowing students to earn transferable college credit even before they earn their diplomas. 

The program is being funded by Career Technical Education Incentive Grants from the California Department of Education, to the tune of $770,000. It also receives funding from the K12 Strong Workforce Investment Program grant, a National Science Foundation grant and a Perkins grant.

PVUSD also receives support from Your Future is Our Business, a group founded in 1993 by the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce to link young people with local businesses.

“It’s driven by the local labor market,” Edwards said. “It’s state-of-the-art careers for kids that will lead them to living wage jobs. That’s what we want: high skill, high demand, high wage.”


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