The Intersection

Governing Principals | Engaging Historically-Underserved Students Through Career and Technical Education

January 29, 2021

For many, Career and Technical Education (CTE) represents an important pathway to opportunity, setting students on the path to high-paying career opportunities without the need for a four-year degree. On the January 22, 2021 edition of Governing Principals the Honorable Alice Johnson Cain led a discussion between Kimberly Green, the Honorable Boyd Rutherford and Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises around engaging historically-underserved students through CTE in Maryland and nationwide.


“Data shows that students who are enrolled in these programs are just as likely to enroll in postsecondary education and they earn higher wages and have better careers as a result.”

-The Honorable Alice Johnson Cain, Former Maryland Delegate


Delegate Cain set the stage for the conversation, highlighting the student engagement issues created by COVID-19 nationwide and the role CTE programs can play in re-engaging students. Existing inequities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and students from underserved communities that are already the most at risk of dropping out of school face more barriers to completion than ever. Cultivation of CTE programs has proven to increase high school graduation rates and postsecondary completion and can lead students directly into a career field with long-term earning potential. By establishing programs that are designed to support vulnerable students, educators and policymakers can increase access and thus foster positive long-term outcomes for students.


“CTE is vital because it is a pathway to success and financial stability.”

-The Honorable Boyd Rutherford, Lt. Governor of Maryland


The benefits of CTE programs for vulnerable populations go beyond hands-on career-focused competencies by providing vital real-life skills like responsibility, persistence, and time management.  Lt. Governor Rutherford highlighted that CTE provides a pathway and purpose for many students, creating a clear roadmap to high paying jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities that can build the generational wealth disadvantaged communities often lack. The Lt. Governor spoke at length about a new partnership he helped create between the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS), Baltimore City Public Schools, and the Home Builders Institute (HBI) which seeks to provide youth under DJS supervision with industry-recognized trades training focused on carpentry and aligned with HBI’s Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training curriculum.

Through this apprenticeship program, disadvantaged and justice-involved youth are exposed to construction fundamentals such as safety, construction math, and tool identification and receive carpentry trade-specific training. Lt. Governor Rutherford, who played a critical role in facilitating this partnership, spoke highly of a recent tour of the program at Carver Vocational-Technical High School in Baltimore where he witnessed students in the first cohort demonstrating their newly acquired skills by building models of homes as well as full sized staircases. The Lt. Governor went on to express the importance of cultivating such partnerships in this work, citing HBI’s role in providing financial support for the program and opportunities to present to local home builders which may lead to an apprenticeship.


“The willingness of the private and public sector to come together and provide work opportunities for young people is a direct connection to the economy.”

-Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, Chief Executive Officer of Baltimore City Schools


Dr. Santelises further expanded upon the theme of building meaningful partnerships to create sustainable and impactful CTE programs for vulnerable students. Approximately 6,600 students are enrolled in a CTE pathway in Baltimore City Schools, and students who engage in CTE courses enroll in higher education at higher rates than students who do not. Often, leaders like Lt. Governor Rutherford or local officials can play an instrumental role in bringing private sector stakeholders to the table to develop CTE programs. In Baltimore, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development has served as a liaison connecting City Schools to employers for such partnerships. In 2020, City Schools launched a partnership with Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) establishing a plumbing program at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School. Through grants provided by BGE, students in the program will receive hands-on training and the opportunity to earn industry certifications. Dr. Santelises expressed the importance of real-world work-based learning experiences, but that these must be linked to certifications in high-paying career fields, something City Schools is considering as they work to revamp their CTE programming.


“We support leaders and try to lead ourselves. We want to model and aspire others to be forward leaning and forward looking, focusing on quality and equity and the creation of measured results and impact.”

-Kimberly Green, Executive Director of Advance CTE


While much of this work is done at the local level, organizations like Advance CTE play an important role in facilitating the sharing of best practices, providing technical assistance, and advocating on behalf of CTE at the state and federal level. Kim Green, the Executive Director of Advance CTE, shared the importance of setting statewide policy to strengthen CTE programs, including developing state-level frameworks that are centered on equity and quality, with a focus on vulnerable populations. Importantly, Kim pushed the audience to think critically about who is being discussed when referencing vulnerable populations, and the importance of examining the impact of gender identity, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language learner status, and disability.

Even before COVID, many states sought to prioritize CTE, establishing state plans that incorporate expanded opportunities for technical assistance, data collection and reporting, and systemic collaboration to strengthen CTE programs at the middle school, high school, and postsecondary level. Kim shared that states like Oregon, which is incorporating trauma-informed practices in CTE programming, and Wyoming, which is moving to increase access to CTE for students with learning differences, are leading the way in making CTE more accessible for all students.


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