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Stephen Jolicoeur

Darryl Murphy

Darryl Murphy / The Notebook

How does CTE shape students?

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 matches their interests and talents, while gaining hands-on training in high school. The District has 43 CTE programs, and many graduates have transitioned to post-secondary institutions – college, university, or technical school. Some have taken jobs in their chosen fields right out of high school. CTE students are gaining valuable experience in fields they are now considering because of their work in the program.

The Notebook asked some current and former students from District CTE programs how their participation shaped their interests and lives. Here are three of their stories.

Stephen Jolicoeur

Before the thought of graduation can even sink in, most high school seniors are bombarded with questions about college, and they may not receive information about alternative paths to success. But Stephen Jolicoeur, a 2014 graduate of Swenson Arts & Technology High School, was among those who had an opportunity to weigh all of his options, even if it was close to the wire.

Jolicoeur, who earned a 3.5 GPA while at Swenson, had been enrolled in the school’s Carpentry CTE program since his freshman year. He was admitted to multiple colleges, but when he weighed the options for post-secondary education against pursuing a career in the trades right out of high school, the latter seemed to be a more natural progression for him.

“It was just last-minute,” said Jolicoeur. “I could tell you it was maybe a month before graduating where I said. ‘Nah, I’m going to the trades.’ I just looked at it. It made sense financially.”

After graduation, Jolicoeur was recruited into the District Council 21 trade union’s VIP program for students. There he learned about drywall finishing and decided to pursue that instead of carpentry. Now in the second year of a drywall-finishing apprenticeship, Jolicoeur said he can see that the skills and experience he gained in the Swenson CTE program has made his transition seamless.

“As soon as I got out here, I hopped right on my feet,” he said. “I came out here swinging. [If] anybody tell you about me, they’ll be like as soon as I grabbed a knife and a pan, I knew what I was doing because it was not the first time I ever touched tools.”

Patrick Derkin was Jolicoeur’s CTE teacher at Swenson. In addition to carpentry, he taught his students the importance of professionalism, such as handling money and being punctual. He also urged them to consider their trade when planning for the future.

“He’s a great guy,” Jolicoeur said of his teacher. “I give him updates to let him know how I am doing. And he is always proud to hear what I am doing.”

Jolicoeur continues to be a member of District Council 21 and has a reputation among his colleagues for being a good worker who exceeds expectations.

Though he has not ruled out going to college at some point, Jolicoeur said that he is also open to other opportunities, maybe as a journeyman – a tradesperson who goes from job to job as an independent worker – or a project foreman. But still, he has an even bigger idea in mind.

“I would be interested in opening a small drywall company, because there’s a lot of small work going on around here. Drive around Center City, you can see there’s work everywhere right now. And it’s like, why not get a piece of that?”

Jocelynn Duran
Applied Visual and Interactive Design

Jocelynn Duran, a 2006 graduate of Northeast High School, built lifelong relationships and skills while attending one of the school’s career and technical education programs in graphic design. Now 28, Duran said that she would love to share those experiences with a new generation of CTE students by becoming a teacher at her alma mater.

“I feel like, too often, kids just go to school and they hate going to school,” she said.

“Taking graphic design, for me, was an outlet. It was just something that I looked forward to every day.”

Duran said that she hopes to teach in the Sports Marketing and Management program at Northeast and that she feels inspired to pursue such a position because of her own CTE teacher, who continues to be a mentor.

For Duran, teaching is a two-way learning opportunity: On one hand, she said, she will be able to “share industry knowledge,” and on the other, she will be at the forefront of developments in the field.

Duran enrolled in a graphic design program at Northeast during her sophomore year in 2004. At the time, the program was not fully developed, but was more of a “pilot program,” Duran said. It would later become known as Applied Visual and Interactive Design. Duran took an elective graphic design class once a day, where she was involved in various projects.

In the program, Duran developed new skills and gained experience working with desktop publishing programs, such as Adobe.

“I had such a great experience in that class,” Duran said.

“I learned so much about myself and just about being creative and learning things on my own.”

Duran said that this class opened up different options for her after high school and expanded what she knew about particular career paths.

“[The program] gave us an idea of what we could do in the future,” she said.

After graduating from Northeast, Duran enrolled at Temple University, where she planned to major in graphic design. But she was not able to pursue that major because admission would have required an art portfolio, which she did not have at the time. Duran did not let this deter her passion for design. She looked for another program where she could maintain and build upon her design skills,ultimately deciding to major in advertising. She graduated from Temple in 2011 with a bachelor of arts degree in advertising.

Since then, Duran has held positions at a marketing start-up company and has worked as a freelancer. Today, she works with Philly.com, the website owned by Philadelphia Media Network, as a national digital sales specialist.

As her career path has advanced, Duran said, her CTE experience has never left her. In fact, she said, it has only enhanced the work that she has done.

“The class that I took definitely had an impact on where I am today,” she said.

Marcus Henderson
Health-Related Technology

Marcus Henderson, 20, always knew he wanted to work in the health-care industry. So in 2009, he wasted no time before enrolling in Franklin Learning Center’s Health-Related Technology program, one of the school’s career and technical education offerings.

“I was one of the primary caregivers for my great-grandmother and great-aunt for many, many years. So I knew that I wanted to be in health care in some way, shape, or form,” said Henderson, who is now a senior in the University of Pennsylvania’s nursing program.

Initially, he applied to Central High School and Science Leadership Academy. But neither school accepted him, leaving him open to a friend’s suggestion to apply to Franklin Learning Center for its program, which today is called Medical/Clinical Assistant.

“I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made, to go to FLC and attend that program,” he said.

Besides being an Ivy League undergraduate, Henderson, a first-generation college student, serves as president of the Student Nursing Association of Pennsylvania (SNAP). He also was selected as one of 10 interns who worked over the summer with the U.S. surgeon general in Washington. The internship program was through Health Occupation Students of America. Henderson worked under the assistant secretary for preparedness and response in the Department of Health and Human Services.

He credits the communication skills that he learned in his CTE program with helping him reach these accomplishments.

“Nursing is one of the few professions where you have a unique interaction with patients and families on a consistent basis,” he said. “And I think the communication that [I] learned in [the] CTE program is really what is carried with me — my ability to communicate with patients, communicate with other students. Even when I am at statewide or national meetings and interacting with leaders from all over the globe, I think that communication piece was key.”

He also attributes his progress to the technical skills and training he learned because it gave him an advantage over his peers.

“Already knowing how to do blood pressure, already knowing how to do some of those technical skills that a nurse’s aide does coming in to a nursing program is very helpful because it kind of sets you apart from some of your colleagues who might not have necessarily had that training,” he said.

Henderson graduated from Franklin Learning Center in 2013, but he still

maintains a good relationship with his former teacher, Jessica Way. Henderson said she played an important role in helping him realize his potential.

He said she saw something in him that he didn’t see in himself at the time. She took him under her wing and continues to be there for him.

“There’s not many teachers in the School District that care for [their] students like Ms. Way does,” he said.

After completing his undergraduate studies in 2017, Henderson plans to pursue a master’s degree in the science of nursing and is considering going for his Ph.D. In the end, he sees himself as a health educator and mentor — someone who is there for students the same way that “Ms. Way” was there for him.

Darryl Murphy and Ellen Schoder were interns at the Notebook this summer.