Last week I had the opportunity to witness the first group of student graduates at Career Tech High School. CTHS is the newest high school in Washington County School District and sits on the corner of River Road and Southern Parkway.

A drone shot over Career Tech High School in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ryan Rarick, St. George News

These graduates check-in at either 3 or 4 years old. Although we do have quite a few gifted students at CTHS, this is not a Doogie Howser or Young Sheldon situation … at least not yet.

These student graduates are the “Tiny Titans” of the CTHS Preschool, the official mascot of CTHS is the Titan. Watching the Tiny Titans demonstrate some of the learning they attained this year by spelling their names, counting to 15, and reciting the days of the week was simultaneously impressive, adorable, and a cause for reflection.

I am less than one week away (four days to be exact) from completing my thirteenth-year as an educator. The first 11 of which I spent teaching Language Arts, then moved into an administrative role for a year before accepting a position at CTHS as the Education Pathway Teacher.

Now, as the final days of the school year wane away, I am in the process of both reflecting on what the students and faculty at CTHS have accomplished in just a single year, and looking forward to the promise and potential this school holds for countless years to come.

For those unfamiliar with CTHS, it is the newest high school in the Washington County School District. However, CTHS is not a traditional high school. As the name indicates, the school places an emphasis on Career and Technical Education. CTHS is considered a “magnet” school, which means that it does not have a boundary designation like most other schools.

Tools and equipment sit ready for students to use in a workshop at Career Tech High School, St. George, Utah, Oct. 11, 2023 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

Instead, students who wish to attend CTHS can apply during their 8th grade year to begin attending the school from 9th-12th grade. Upon acceptance, students at CTHS select one of eight career pathways, listed:

Business, marketing, and Entrepreneurship
Construction and architecture
Culinary arts, tourism, and hospitality
Engineering, technology, and robotics
Graphic design
Health science
Information technology and cybersecurity

While other schools in Utah offer career, or pathway-based learning opportunities. CTHS is unique in the fact that it also houses all of the core subject areas (English, Math, Science, etc.) in the same location. Students who attend CTHS continue to attend their traditional core classes, while most of their elective courses are tied to their pathway of choice.

This unique educational model allows students to accumulate work-based learning experiences, develop practical skills and industry certifications, while still covering core subjects.

For example, in the Education Pathway students have the opportunity to spend one of their eight periods working in the on-site preschool (connected to the education classroom).

Abby Cox and preschool students learn from each other at Career Tech High School in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ryan Rarick, St. George News

The students work with professional preschool educators and learn how to manage a classroom, teach small and whole group lessons, and positively reinforce desirable student behaviors.

In fact, during the Tiny Titan graduation, many of my high school students were involved in the program. In the years to come, my students will have the opportunity to move beyond preschool and gain work-based experience in elementary and intermediate schools. One day, I hope to hire some of my own students to become my teacher colleagues.

Other pathways also offer various work-based experiences as well. The Construction & Architecture students design and build sheds, tiny homes, and they even construct a house every year which is featured in the St. George Parade of Homes. The Culinary Arts students will have the opportunity to operate a real café within the walls of CTHS.

The Engineering students were able to take a trip to California to explore backstage of the Millenium Falcon ride to learn how it works, as well as witness a presentation about how SpaceX rockets are constructed. Honestly, the list goes on and on with the work-based learning the CTHS students experience.

As my excitement and enthusiasm mounts for what is happening at CTHS, part of my reflection is also awe for how far we’ve come. The school year definitely got off to a rocky start. We didn’t gain clearance to even enter the building until two days before school started.

Kids got constructive as they built competition entries at the Block Kids Building Contest at Career Tech High School, St. George, Utah, Oct. 27, 2023 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

The air conditioning units malfunctioned and started pouring water into the hallways. The students, faculty, and administration didn’t have any traditions to fall back on, and we were all on a quest to establish a culture of “this is how we do things here.”

These struggles lingered from the beginning of the year through the second quarter, and then something magical happened. Once winter break ended and students returned to school, the aura of CTHS shifted. The simplest way to explain it is to quote Principal Chris Homer, “We found our culture.”

The change was palpable and real. I distinctly remember a specific moment during an activity when a student of mine commented, “We used to be shy and nervous around each other, but now we’re besties. We’re like a family now.”

Ultimately, the power of purpose in education is what has impressed me most as I reflect back on the first year of existence for CTHS. As students have developed a passion for the work of their pathways, we are seeing that passion pay off in all areas of education.

The early returns from the Utah ASPIRE Plus exam are showing immense gains in both student growth and student proficiency … in the academic areas of English, Math, Reading, and Science!

A drone shot over Career Tech High School in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ryan Rarick, St. George News

I return now to the Tiny Titan graduation, I watch the incredible preschool teachers lead their students through the program, and witness my own students motivate nervous three-year-olds to pretend to be spiders during a funny part of the program (it is, after all, quite terrifying for 3-year-olds to perform in front of a room full of adults).

I am simultaneously filled with pride to see a high school student who was herself a shy and quiet student only 9 months ago, now become a calming, encouraging, mentor to her own student. 

I am also struck by the thought that my high school student might actually teach this preschooler if my student decides to become a 4th grade elementary teacher! These thoughts transfer to the other pathways as well: I could purchase a house built by CTHS Construction students, or visit a restaurant created by a CTHS Culinary student, and I could rely on a student from the IT & Cyber Security Pathway to protect me from an identity thief.

These are all thoughts of what the future can hold, but for now, I’ll simply end with this… This school year has been incredible. I’ve grown and stretched as an educator, my students have surpassed my wildest expectations, and I’ve watched them discover an authentic purpose for their education.

For any reading this with school-aged children, or if you are school-aged yourself … “Come find your ‘WHY’ at CT High.”

Submitted by Ryan Rarick, Career Tech High School, St. George, Utah.

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