Recently, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and co-chair of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), introduced the bipartisan Middle School Technical Education Program (Middle STEP) Act, legislation that would expose middle school students to CTE programs focused on career exploration.
The Middle STEP Act would establish a pilot program that allows middle schools to partner with colleges, other postsecondary institutions, and local businesses to develop and implement CTE exploration programs that give students access to apprenticeships or project-based learning opportunities, which are traditionally not available to students until high school or higher education. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Mark Warner (D-VA).
“Wherever I travel through Virginia I hear the same thing from business owners, manufacturers, and plant managers: there are good paying jobs out there, we just need to train our students with the skills to fill them. Middle school is a time for students to begin thinking about what they want to pursue in life. Helping them explore how their coursework could support those interests can make a valuable difference down the road,” said Kaine. “I believe this is a meaningful strategy that can propel them toward the careers of the future, and help to fill workforce shortages across the Commonwealth.”
“Career and technical education is a powerful tool in preparing students for good-paying jobs in fields that help drive our economy in West Virginia and across the country,” Capito said. “By making sure students are aware of the opportunities provided by this kind of education early on, we can help set them up to succeed both in school and in the workforce. The Middle STEP Act will help more of our students find the path to success that works best for them and prepare a new generation to meet the demands of a 21st century workforce.”
“As a middle school principal, my singular goal is the fulfillment of my students’ human potential, and no initiative holds greater promise than CTE for reaching that goal. CTE empowers students to lead their own learning by weaving skills and knowledge into solutions for real-world problems. That learning contributes not only to the student’s future well-being, but to a greater prosperity in the future we will all share,” said Carole Kihm, Principal, Longfellow Middle School
In addition to providing students with access to apprenticeships or project-based learning opportunities, middle school CTE programs funded through the Middle STEP Act would give students access to career guidance and academic counseling to help them understand the educational requirements for high-growth, in-demand career fields. Programs would help students draft a high school graduation plan that demonstrates what courses would prepare them for a given career. The programs must also provide a clear transition path from the introductory middle school program to a more narrow focus of CTE study in high school and must be accessible to students from economically disadvantaged, urban and rural communities.
“In today’s competitive global economy, it is important that students have opportunities to explore, plan and pursue high-skill, high-demand, high-wage careers beginning in middle school,” said LeAnn Wilson, the executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education. “We proudly endorse the Middle STEP Act because it will give middle school students an early advantage by providing them with the tools to succeed through project-based learning opportunities, apprenticeships, and career guidance and academic counseling.”
The Middle STEP Act is endorsed by the Association for Career and Technical Education, Association for Middle Level Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, Alliance for Excellent Education and Advance CTE. Kaine first introduced an earlier version of the legislation in the 113th Congress and reintroduced an updated version of the legislation in the 114th Congress.
-Submitted by Sarah Peck