At the HERstory brunch in March at union headquarters in Manhattan, UFT members were able to relax while receiving massages and feel pampered while having their nails manicured and their makeup applied, all by career and technical education students from Queens Vocational and Technical HS in Long Island City.
As those members saluted the women who have helped build the UFT into a dominant force in the labor movement, those 25 students — who study cosmetology at Queens Vocational — were demonstrating how the career and technical education process works, applying the skills they acquired in school in a real-world setting.
Their CTE teacher, Andrea Lingstuyl, had worked with the organizers of the HERstory event to create a menu of services her students could provide — taking their studies from theoretical to practical as they made a real contribution to the event and represented their school and their communities. That their services made people feel special was icing on the cake.
The HERstory event was also a teaching, and learning, moment for these students. As part of the audience, many were inspired by the speakers. Some contributed to the discussion of labor history and the part women have played in the labor movement and society. The students also shared in the spirit of empowerment that was celebrated by the participants. That’s what we want for all CTE students — to feel empowered by the skills they have acquired, whether in traditional or nontraditional trades, and to feel empowered in their lives.
Career and technical education prepares students for college and simultaneously gives them options by teaching them career skills. They learn theory and a skill set in the classroom and then put those into practice through work-based learning, where employers and schools work collaboratively to give students structured learning experiences aligned with their curriculum. Those experiences are designed to help students develop skills that are stackable and transferable to the workplace.
But nothing beats real-world experience. And that knowledge wasn’t lost on the cosmetology students.
One student observed, “Working with adult clients you need to be more professional and more mature” than when you demonstrate skills on family and friends. Another pointed out that “at school you know the people you’re working on and you know what to talk about, but you have to branch out and find a way to make clients comfortable” in a real-world setting, where, she said, conversations are more challenging.
Applying makeup at the event required real effort and determination because at school the students often work with mannequins. In this real-world adventure, one student said she appreciated the “hands-on experience of working with different skin textures.”
While some of the students plan to make a career out of cosmetology, several want to be teachers, and their studies have provided them with the focus and the foundation they need. I told them about the Success Via Apprenticeship (SVA) program that would allow them, as graduates of a CTE program, to attend college and simultaneously work in the cosmetology field until their teacher training is complete.
At least one student aspires to be a lawyer. She has years of schooling ahead and plans to put her CTE skills to work to offset her expenses while she studies.
Through the continued expansion of CTE, we are providing opportunities for thousands of students just like these. The investment we’re making helps ensure we’re doing meaningful work. Moreover, when we can provide real-world experience, said one student, they can “experience it, deal with it and learn from it.”