There’s a CTSO for every student
Arlington ISD’s career and technical education program is all about providing future-building opportunities for students. And many of those opportunities extend beyond the classroom.
That’s the case with all the district’s many career and technical student organizations (CTSOs). These organizations offer students the opportunity to learn a wide range of real-world skills, improve teamwork and engage in competition with other schools.
“CTSOs provide unique programs of career and leadership development, engaging and competitive activities, classroom enrichment with extended learning and well-deserved student recognition for their talent and hard work,” said Susan Patterson, Arlington ISD director of career and technical education.
With a wide variety of organizations to choose from – from agriculture to robotics to business and more – there is something for everyone. While these organizations are fun for students while they are in them, their impact is serious, lasting and life-changing.
“CTSO organizations are a gateway to finding community, creating a network that reaches beyond the walls of the organizations and finding friendships that will last a lifetime,” said Dakota Lindemulder, an Arlington High School grad who moved on to Texas A&M to study agricultural economics.
BUILDING A FUTURE
Lindemulder’s CTSO when he was a high school student, Future Farmers of America – or FFA – is a great example of the impact on students.
Sponsored by the district’s ten agricultural science teachers, Arlington ISD’s FFA has around 160 student members from all district high schools. FFA gives members the opportunity to apply what they learn in their ag science courses and exhibit chickens, rabbits, goats, lambs and cattle. Plus, FFA students participate in competitions on leadership development, career development and public speaking.
“FFA impacts me by making me a more responsible and social person,” said Ismael Plata, a senior at Arlington High. “Some things that I have gained are educational opportunities, leadership skills and work ethic. Through the FFA I have shown a goat, heifer, ag mechanics, and I helped another student show their market broilers at the county show.”
The impact extends beyond the animal arena and helps create well-rounded individuals. FFA helps strengthen time management skills, work ethic and responsibility as well as employability skills for all careers, ag-related or not.
“I would not be the person I am today without the hard lessons, rewarding successes and valued mentors that I experienced during my time in the FFA,” Lindemulder said. “These organizations are one of the stepping stones into adulthood and finding your place in this world.”
RABBITS TO ROBOTS
While some students raise rabbits, others build robots. The district’s robotics clubs compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition, which bills itself as the ultimate sport for the mind. The student teams design, manufacture and build a robot that competes with other teams throughout the state.
“Robotics is very useful to the students because it allows them to apply in-demand real-world skills primarily in the areas of design, manufacturing, engineering and programming,” said Kevin Knierim, an entrepreneurship and marketing instructor at the Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center and the lead mentor for one of the CTC’s robotics teams. “Students are able to apply these skills directly in the workforce or it prepares them for STEM-type degrees.”
One of the most impactful elements of robotics competition isn’t specifically about STEM. It’s about learning to work together with others. It’s about teamwork.
“It is not a group of students working on individual competitions,” Knierim said. “It is truly a team where all the parts work together. In addition, we can incorporate a variety of pathways. We have engineering, manufacturing, programming, business and even cosmetology students involved in the different aspects of the team.”
CTSO’s don’t just focus on animals and technology. Some, like FCCLA – Family, Career, Community Leaders of America – are focused on people, on families and on community.
“It is the only student organization that is focused on family, and it honestly is one big family,” said Seguin High School teacher Stephanie Bowsher. Bowsher has been the FCCLA advisor for six years and loved every minute of it.
“It is an extremely competitive organization and teaches the students leadership skills, networking, community service and the importance of doing for others,” she said.
Students compete with projects related to anything from culinary arts, leadership, sustainability, food innovations and parliamentary procedures.
“I am so proud of all of my competitors and students in the organization,” Bowsher said. “They all work extremely hard and learn life-changing lessons and skills that take them into college and their adult lives.”
Advancing all the way to the FCCLA’s national competition is extremely difficult, but Bowsher has had students reach the National Leadership Conference for the last three years in a row. That includes Alexis Chukwunyere, last year’s Seguin FCCLA president. In fact, she didn’t just make it; she placed 11th in the nation for her event management project.
“Without the help of my advisor, Ms. Bowsher, and the staff and faculty at Seguin, I would not have had the opportunity to experience something as great at NLC for two years in a row or find myself in ways I may not have before,” Chukwunyere said.
FUTURE BUSINESS LEADERS
Many students have their sights set on business and entrepreneurship after they complete their education, and CTSOs like Future Business Leaders of America and Business Professionals of America equip students with the skills they will need to be successful.
“Business Professionals of America is an organization that exposes members to opportunities that offer real value to the community while simultaneously providing a vehicle to develop and improve academic knowledge, 21st century skills and a broader sense of social conscience and community awareness,” said Christi Cox, a teacher and BPA sponsor at Bowie High School.
Judging by Cox’s students’ success at the regional BPA competition, the students are getting a lot out of their BPA experience. All 44 students who competed recently in the regional competition advanced to the state competition at the end of the month. They will be competing to advance to the national competition in Chicago in May.
“Being a part of BPA has been a wonderful experience,” said Bowie’s BPA vice president Joanne Xia. “I love the connections that I was able to make over the years. BPA allowed me to go out and feel new experiences and create amazing memories that I will never forget. This organization has truly made my time at school a little more enjoyable.”
BUSINESS, BBQ AND BEYOND
Whether it’s ag, robotics, family, business or barbecue – yes, BBQ – or health sciences or welding or public safety or education – there are CTSOs for every student. And every one of them is giving students life-building opportunities – opportunities to learn, to grow and to lay the foundation for a successful future.