This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School District’s career and technical education (CTE) programs give students an opportunity to choose a career path that best matches their interests and talents, while gaining hands-on training in high school. Many students who have participated in one of the District’s 41 CTE programs have transitioned to post-secondary institutions – college, university, or technical school — and some have also gotten jobs in their chosen fields right out of high school.
The Notebook asked several graduates from a District CTE program how their participation shaped their interests and lives. We interviewed students from a variety of programs, from culinary arts to computer systems networking to auto-body collision repair.
Several profiles will appear in our upcoming Fall Guide to High Schools, due out Sept. 4, and over the next few weeks, we will preview some of these students’ stories online.
Our second profile is of Bernard Buie, a 2008 graduate of Northeast High School’s Applied Visual and Interactive Design program.
Northeast High School graduate Bernard Buie launched a fashion career before he was 20 years old using the skills he learned in Applied Visual and Interactive Design (AVID), one of the high school’s career and technical education programs.
“When I was 19, I opened my first clothing retail store, to push my career,” he said.
Buie started the store right after graduating from Northeast in 2008. At the same time, he headed to American Intercontinental University in Atlanta. Balancing the business with college proved difficult, so Buie let go of the store. But he continued his studies and graduated in 2010 with an associate’s degree in business administration.
Today, Buie, 25, runs his own clothing line called SOS by Bernard Buie. The line features boxer briefs with a lower-leg pocket for condoms to promote safe sex. Buie credits his business success not only to his college education, but also to the experience he gained in his CTE program.
In the AVID program, students learn about a range of design elements, such as graphics layout techniques, printing, and web design. They use industry-standard technology and apply what they’ve learned, with coursework in graphic design and in other applications, according to the District’s course description.
Buie said that starting the applied design track in high school was an easy decision because he had always liked technology.
“The program had Macs, which have more visual and design software, instead of PCs,” he said.
Early on he knew he wanted to get into business, and he also knew that the other programs that his neighborhood high school offered just weren’t a good fit.
“I liked math and money but never was the Algebra II type,” Buie said.
Buie didn’t start in the school’s CTE program until the 11th grade, one year after most students begin. He said that he got a late start because he spent his first two years of high school trying to find the right school. He attended Gratz for 9th grade and then Delaware Valley Charter High School for 10th grade. After discovering that Northeast was the best option for him, his family moved from North Philadelphia to be closer to the school. Once there, Buie said, he was able to jump right into the program and its specialized courses.
“I got to learn HTML and play with the school website. I got to learn a little bit about Photoshop,” he said.
His CTE program included what Buie described as an apprenticeship with Xerox. He said this apprenticeship was the highlight of his time in high school. With the company, he was able to learn more of the nuts and bolts of design and to work directly with industry products, such as new types of printers and inkjets. The apprenticeship also connected him with opportunities to learn not just from current technology, but from people in the business.
“Xerox would come into the school and would allow us to work on projects and would mentor us.”
Buie said his CTE teachers also served as mentors, which at the time he didn’t realize was unique.
“I thought that because they were teachers, they had to mentor. Later on, I realized they didn’t have to do half of what they did. I looked at teachers primarily for the skills I learned,” he said. He still counts on those skills today.
Buie found that his CTE coursework was the bridge to the design work he now does with his clothing business.
“CTE laid down my foundation for what things should look like. I learned font types, how to cut business cards, and where different logos should go on business cards,” he said.
He also said he realizes that knowing the ins and outs of the design world has helped him with his career. So, in addition to running his clothing business – which also provides graphic design services like business card design – he’s teaching these skills to young people who want to enter the industry.
“Right now, I have two design interns, and I’m actually teaching them what I learned in high school [because] had I not gone through CTE, I don’t think I’d be where I am.”
Michaela Ward was an intern at the Notebook this summer.