Dusty Johnson was the kind of guest hosts like to welcome into their homes – or places of business. Curious. Appreciative.
But South Dakota’s lone representative in the U.S. House wasn’t making a social call on Wednesday as he strolled through the halls of Madison High School with Principal Adam Shaw and visited classrooms. Johnson was checking out the school’s career and technical education (CTE) program to see how federal funding was making a difference to Madison high school students.
“Does the community understand how unusual this is?” Johnson asked at one point.
Shaw said community members did and cited strong business partnerships as evidence. Those partnerships enable the program to prepare students for the workforce.
Johnson’s visit lasted just over an hour, but during that time he visited classrooms, talked with instructors and held a Q&A with the senior class. In jeans, with a jacket pulled over a button-down shirt, he radiated affability, but his questions were sharp and his observations insightful.
He spoke with retired Lt. Col. Danny Frisby-Griffith about the drones and aviation program, noting when he saw the drones, “These are serious pieces of equipment.”
Frisby-Griffith answered questions about everything from cost to capabilities. He also demonstrated the flight simulator, explaining how it was used to help students prepare for their first solo flight.
Johnson stepped in a classroom to learn what is being offered for students interested in health care before touring Austin Kesteloot’s domain, where students learn carpentry skills, automotive skills and welding. Kesteloot talked about courses he teaches, showing Johnson one of the ice houses his students build.
Johnson wanted to know not only what programs are offered but also the program outcomes. Were they effective? Do students go to work or enroll in two-year technical programs as a result? Does MHS partner with area technical colleges?
Shaw shared success stories, beginning with his own son, who is now an electrician. He said that his son had intended to attend a four-year college until he took a course from Kesteloot. Following graduation, he earned a two-year degree at Southeast Technical College and is now employed.
He talked about a student who would have dropped out had they not worked with him to find a paid internship at Mustang Seeds which motivated him to complete the necessary coursework for graduation. Shaw explained the district’s goal in building the CTE program in recent years – to help students who were previously struggling.
“We started adding this program and that to help students find their niche,” he said.
The CTE program at MHS was built with funding through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The grants, which are administered through the state, can be used to purchase equipment and help cover the cost of professional development.
However, the local school district bears the financial burden of paying salaries and benefits for staffing the classrooms. MHS currently has five full-time CTE positions. Shaw said that comprises 20% of his teaching staff.
The issue of staffing came up when Johnson asked Kesteloot and school administrators for their wish list. Kesteloot initially said he would like a laser engraver. Shaw said he would like to offer a heavy mechanics program.
“It would be more ideal if we could get another educator,” Kesteloot said, amending his initial answer. He explained the challenge of teaching the range of courses for which he is responsible.
In the school’s kitchen for the culinary education program, Johnson learned students catered meals for meetings, prepared desserts for area restaurants, and prepared take-and-bake meals for the holidays. In addition, students are qualified to enter the food service industry when they complete the program.
As that portion of the visit wrapped up, Jorgenson noted that by allowing students to explore career fields in high school, they are helping them discover their career path. Even failure teaches a lesson – that they need to go in a different direction.
“It’s worth it for our kids,” Jorgenson said.
“We’ll do whatever we can to help our kids get a good education,” Shaw said in agreement.