For White Mountains Regional High School (WMRHS), the opportunity to transform its CTE program was about finding an open door after another one shut.

“A few years ago, we were up for sizable renovations, which would’ve expanded many of the CTE classrooms, but unfortunately both measures failed,” explained Rob Scott, CTE Director at WMRHS. “It really forced the district to take a look at all of our programs to figure out how to best optimize the resources we had.”

At the time, WMRHS had 18 CTE-related programs for 1,200 eligible students, a ratio far higher than at other schools. With Animal Science and Horticulture enrolling fewer than 10 students yearly, Scott and his colleagues set to work on reimagining the district’s CTE programs.

“We brought in folks from secondary schools and local community colleges, and that became the group that really helped us redesign our CTE,” he said.

Today, White Mountain offers six distinct areas of focus: Agricultural Science, Culinary, Hospitality, JROTC, Cybersecurity and Networking, and Welding. If everything goes according to plan, the school will launch its new Criminal Justice program in time for the 2018-19 school year.

White Mountain’s CTE overhaul is about more than just simple streamlining. By combining elements of core curricula with CTE, the school is helping students become more well-rounded and more attractive to prospective employers.

“One thing our programs do is get kids out into the community–and because of that, they’re becoming more and more sought after,” Scott said. “Our horticulture program was asked to develop a memorial garden at a local cemetery based entirely on the work these students had done on our own grounds. That kind of real-world experience is invaluable.”

A big part of WMRHS’s approach has been to work with the school’s core instructors to develop new and creative ways for students to learn competencies, including offering more extended learning opportunities (ELOs). If a student wants to become a police officer, for instance, the school can help arrange an internship at the local police department.

According to Scott, it is that kind of practical appeal that attracts students from more traditional pathways, including a few valedictorians, into the CTE fold.

Owing to that cross-curricula appeal, one of the school’s goals is for every graduating student to either enroll in postsecondary school or have some form of professional accreditation (ELOs included) by the year 2020.

“Even if they realize one or another path isn’t for them–as a high-school kid, that’s a valuable thing to learn,” he said. “Sometimes, finding out what you don’t want to do is just as crucial as discovering what you do want to do.”

One of the biggest changes in the world of CTE has been a shift in language from the outdated “vocational” to the more nuanced “Career and Technical Education.” With so many CTE programs tailor-made to meet industry demands, focusing in on a CTE track is not merely practical; rather, it is a foothold to a much more certain future.

According to Scott, dynamic CTe programs also help to break down decades-old walls of the literal and figurative sort.

“Five or 10 years ago, there was a clear divide between the academic side and the CTE side,” Scott explained. “There was this unfounded belief that these kids couldn’t do the work, that that’s where ‘those kids’ go. We’ve done a lot of work to really break that wall down.”