Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing

Career and Technical Education - Creating High-Quality Content

August 12, 2021 Debbie Allen, Content Director for Career and Technical Education Season 1 Episode 21
Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
Career and Technical Education - Creating High-Quality Content
Show Notes Transcript

Debbie Allen, Content Director for Career and Technical Education discusses why Westchester Education Services is well-suited to create classroom materials for teachers and students in this area of study.

Nicole Tomassi:

Welcome to Westchester Words, Education, Ed tech and publishing. I'm Nicole Tomassi, and in this episode, I'll be talking with Debbie Allen, content director for career and technical education for Westchester education services, about how W estchester has the capabilities that companies need to develop classroom materials to meet the growing demand for high quality CTE content. Debbie, welcome to Westchester words.

Debbie Allen:

Thanks, Nicole. I'm happy to be here

Nicole Tomassi:

And I'm very glad to have you here. This is, I don't know if you know this, but this is going to be our final episode for season one. So thank you for being our capstone for the first season.

Debbie Allen:

Sure.

Nicole Tomassi:

Let's get underway by having you share with our listeners a little bit about your professional experience prior to joining Westchester.

Debbie Allen:

Okay. I began working in educational publishing about 25 years ago, and I always served as a generalist with my portfolio, including work in pre-K literacy, English as a foreign language, high school composition and lit elementary school, health GED, science, prep, math, social studies, pretty much everything, but I've also worked in other fields such as journalism, scholarly book and journal editing and technical writing and editing. And these other experiences have reinforced my understanding of how to make complex subject matter accessible to lay audiences, which I think is foundational for conveying CTE subjects to a middle school and high school audience. So I think this very background is useful for the role I'm playing now with Westchester.

Nicole Tomassi:

So you said that you've done a lot of work in technical writing, which allows you to express concepts in a way that would be more accessible by elementary, middle school and high school students in terms of introducing CTE. And as we know, there's been an increased level of interest in this area over the last couple of years. What do you think are the factors that have led to this increased interest by states and schools to offer career and technical education?

Debbie Allen:

Well, there are several factors. First, there has been an increased demand from parents and students for schools to arm young people with the knowledge and skills that make them attractive to employers and give them a headstart on career success. So that's one factor. Also, newer research has shown that CTE improves not only career readiness, but also core academic skills. And this is because CTE students, they better comprehend the relevance of core academic subjects , um , when it's tied to career options that therefore their , their motivation for learning is increased. And , and another aspect of CTE is that it allows states and schools and educators and organizations and so forth to tap the interests and abilities of a wider range of students than purely academic pursuits in mind. So there's things that have to do with learning that have led to increased attention right now. And finally, another factor is that the federal government substantially increased funding for CTE through the 2018 reauthorization the Perkins act. So there was always funding there, but they increased the funding and that has continued to happen. So basically there are factors from, from different realms, you know, parents, student demand, research on learning government emphasis and so forth that have increased interest in CTE in recent years.

Nicole Tomassi:

Okay, thank you for shedding some light on that, because I didn't realize that there was a correlation between CTE knowledge and an increased academic success in core subjects. That's really interesting. So as you were here at Westchester and starting to build out the team of professionals that would be working with you on CTE projects, what kind of capabilities were most important to you for these individuals to possess?

Debbie Allen:

Well, I'm assembling a network of professionals who can serve as either subject matter experts or content creators, or in some cases, both subject matter expert and content creator. And two of the most important qualities of these team members are having a robust understanding of CTE subject matter in one or more fields. And secondly, being able to clearly explain concepts associated with CTE areas of study to middle school, high school and post-secondary audiences. Of course, I , I also expect our content creators to have experience in developing educational materials and a dedication to following guidelines and meeting deadlines and so forth. So it's , it's the same requirements I would have for any team , uh , working in educational publishing with the added layer of having that robust understanding of, of what's needed for CTE materials.

Nicole Tomassi:

And there are literally dozens of career technical education pathways. And I'm just curious, how did Westchester determine which ones would be the primary focus with this content offering?

Debbie Allen:

Yeah, great question. Um, we knew we wanted to be able to meet client needs with high quality products going into this. So we've approached Westchester's entry into the CTE realm with real intentionality. Um, our first decision was to focus initially on only a segment of the 16 recognized career clusters. In determining where to place this focus, we considered factors such as, u h, i ndustries having the greatest need for workers across the country slash industries identified by the association for career and technical education as vital sector industries, careers f or which the most CTE concentrators e xist. A nd CTE concentrators a re students who have taken a certain number of CTE courses throughout their academic career. U m, the correlation of CTE areas of study with job pay rates and on and on, we just looked at many factors related to how education relates to careers. And then at the same time we considered the fields for which we knew we could recruit highly qualified subject matter experts and content c reators. So after we did all that research and thought about the resources we could tap, we identified a handful of career clusters to focus on initially. And those are agriculture food, natural resources, business management, and administration finance and marketing, health sciences, hospitality, and, and information technology. Plus we have plans in place to strategically add clusters as we grow our CTE capabilities . So we already know based on the research we did, which clusters we want to add next, but we don't want to bite off more than we can chew. We want to be able to meet client's needs. So that's why we're really taking a real intentional approach to it .

Nicole Tomassi:

And having , uh , having a more clarity and focus before you go a bit wider with the programming.

Debbie Allen:

Exactly. Yeah .

Nicole Tomassi:

That makes a lot of sense. Debbie, as you know, from your research, students are being introduced to career and technical education pathways sometimes as early as elementary school or middle school, where there may not be an adequate amount of materials that teachers and students can learn from. Can you discuss the materials that Westchester has developed to help students start exploring the potential career pathways available to them?

Debbie Allen:

This is something I'm really excited about. We've created an initial set of career exploration worksheets , um , that align with the career clusters that we're focusing on, that I just identified and are written for a sixth grade audience. And each of these worksheets provides industry related information such as for particular industry, the need for workers, education required income range, and then descriptions of diverse jobs that are part of that industry and an in-depth day in the life look at one of those jobs. So for example, for the natural resources worksheet, we spotlighted day in the life of a solar engineer. And then the other thing is each worksheet also includes localized examples of places to work in the area related to the industry. Um , and including these local examples makes the content more relevant to students and addresses the importance of focusing on local need when developing CTE materials. So we develop the worksheets for use in school, in schools, in the Dayton Ohio area. And that's what the localized examples relate to, but these worksheets can be customized for use anywhere in the country. And we're happy to work with people to do that. And the worksheet examples are available on the, on the Westchester website for people to take them .

Nicole Tomassi:

Well, thank you, you just took the words right out of my mouth. Um, and uh, for our listeners, we'll drop a link in from the podcast page of our website over to where you can find and download those , um , worksheets. So at the end of June, we did an emerging trends webinar. And on there we had Rich Portelance who's from CareerPath, he's the founder and CEO there. And he was discussing the intersectionality that exists between career and technical education, social and emotional learning, and culturally responsive education. I was wondering if you could also speak to that and explain why CTE materials should incorporate these principles. Sure. Of course,

Debbie Allen:

All educational materials today should be incorporating principles of DEI and SEL. But I think doing so is especially important in CTE because these, these are the principles that build skills and capabilities that are vital for career success, even more, you know, it's , it's actually even more important, I think maybe in CTE than it is possibly in certain other subjects. basically anybody who's ever worked anywhere knows how dynamics and consequently your ability to do your job well are affected when you feel acceptance, compassion and empathy for your coworkers, and they feel the same for you. So I think that's why it's vitally important. And the career worksheets that I just talked about include examples of ways in which DEI and , and SEL can be incorporated into CTE materials. For example, the characters featured in the day in the life scenarios are diverse across the worksheets and social and emotional aspects of various careers are addressed within the worksheet . So I think we've already gotten off to a good start on , on incorporating those concepts into, into CTE materials.

Nicole Tomassi:

So in addition to incorporating these very important concepts and all the other ideas that you outlined earlier in our discussion, why else should a publisher CTE materials or an organization that works with teachers and students in these pathways partner with Westchester develop to develop content for their curriculum?

Debbie Allen:

First, Westchester Education Services has established itself as a high quality full service developer of core for educational materials. And speaking personally, I've known and been impressed by many of the people who work at Westchester for decades because I've been in industry for a while and I've worked with these people before. So I know that clients can rest assured that we will apply the same characteristics that make Westchester a go-to core four developer to the creation of CTE materials. Second, as the leader of Westchester CTE service area, I'm committed to working collaboratively with clients and applying an unwavering quality ethic to all the products we create, which is what I've done throughout my career. And these high standards , um , are going to lead to successful competitive products for our clients. And I'm really excited about that.

Nicole Tomassi:

So, Debbie, is there anything else that you would like listeners to be aware of about career and technical education before we conclude?

Debbie Allen:

Yeah, I'd just like to say that really now more than ever is CTE's moment. Um, the federal government has identified an urgent need to strengthen the competitiveness of the U S workforce and has challenged those of us in the fields of education and educational publishing to rethink CTE as they put it with boldness and innovation and Westchester stands ready to work with clients to rise to that challenge. And I do too.

Nicole Tomassi:

Well, that sounds like a really great note to end on. So Debbie, I'd like to thank you for joining me today to provide listeners with a better understanding about how Westchester Education Services can help them to develop high quality career and technical educational materials.

Debbie Allen:

Thanks, Nicole. I appreciate the opportunity to do that.

Nicole Tomassi:

To learn how Debbie and the entire Westchester education services team can work with you to develop high quality educational materials, complete the contact us form on the homepage of the Westchester education services website. And we'll be in touch with you. I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Westchester words. You can follow us on your favorite streaming platform to be notified about new episodes as they become available and to listen to previous episodes that you may have missed. You can also find all of the episodes plus additional content that's been shared by of our guests on the podcast page of our website at westchestereducationservices.com. We also love to hear from our listeners, so send us an email at westchester words at westchesteredsvcs.com to share your thoughts or comments about today's discussion and tell us what content you'd like to hear Westchester cover in future episodes. As I mentioned earlier, this episode concludes our first season. We're having more great discussions about topics of importance to the education at tech and publishing communities. And we'll be back in mid September with season two of Westchester words until then I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer, stay well, be safe and stay tuned.