Kids and experts blend health and tech in new CTE program

Cabinet Report

Kids and experts blend health and tech in new CTE program

by Alisha Kirby

(Calif.) Between the sudden shortness of breath, racing heart and shaking hands can be a moment of clarity where one can pick up the phone and, in just a few taps, find breathing exercises and simple steps to help push through a panic attack.

As part of a growing effort to boost kids’ exposure to real-world problem solving, students in Sacramento are building similar smart phone applications to help those in their community struggling with mental health issues.

Much of the project was funded through California’s Career Pathways Trust grant which allocates funds for the expansion or creation of high-quality career technical education courses.

“The whole point of that grant is to make sure that the money is going toward high growth, high skill and high wage jobs–and you can see just from looking at the headlines in the papers the last few years that mental health is a huge area of interest because it’s an area of high need both locally and nationwide,” said Darrell Parsons, coordinator for Health-Biological Pathways for the Capital Region Academies for the Next Economy, a consortium of districts and county education offices involved with the program which promotes CTE pathways.

“These are kids who have self-selected these health and computer technology pathways who are seeing practical applications, gaining experience, and having opportunities to interact with real professionals and folks at the post-secondary level so that they can also build those relationships,” Parsons said in an interview.

Districts across the country have increasingly begun to implement CTE programs that aim to meet the needs of their local communities. High school-level firefighting programs were developed in Maine to train and recruit young people for short staffed stations; Massachusetts schools have partnered with local farms and community colleges to create career pathways in sustainable agriculture and food systems; and districts in Ohio, South Carolina and Texas have all implemented programs in areas including aerospace and defense, technology and comprehensive health care professions.

In California, funding for schools to improve career technical education has drastically increased since the Legislature created the Career Pathways Trust program. Allocations of $250 million were made available in each of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 state budgets, with an additional $900 million approved over three years for a CTE Instructional Grant program in the 2015 budget.

The Psych-Tech App Development Project partners approximately 50 local high school students with the Sacramento State University’s psychology department, Capital Region Academies for the Next Economy, and professionals in the field of psychology.

Through the project, students participating in their schools’ health or computer technology pathway programs began creating apps last week that can act as an instant resource for people experiencing a mental health crisis or those trying to help someone facing a mental health issue.

Topics were chosen by the students who then teamed up to work with mentors from the Sacramento State psychology department and professionals working in the community. Over the next six weeks, some will focus on issues common among adolescents such as bullying, anxiety, stress, eating disorders or depression, while others looked into helping those in the broader community who suffer from conditions including obsessive compulsive disorder or epilepsy, according to Parsons.

Proponents of CTE say such programs lead to greater rates of postsecondary persistence while also providing critical experience that better prepares students to thrive in the current economy.

“We’ve known for decades now that kids need contextualization of their instruction, so why teach them solely out of a textbook when we can have them do something like develop a mobile app or other tech project of of their choosing?” Parsons asked. “There’s a growing effort in schools all across the country to blend different industry sectors, but I think this blend of mental health and mobile technology is unique, and the goal really is to just knock down some of those silos and have it be more like the real world.”