Eric Stinton: How A High School In California Could Be A Model For Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

If you follow the discourse about student loan forgiveness, one point comes up routinely: young people have been told since childhood that a college degree is the definitive road to higher pay and a better life. This is true in many ways, but that road has become increasingly potholed with near certain and significant debt, all while wages across various sectors have stagnated.

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Though there are many culprits responsible for the trillion-dollar student debt crisis — outrageous spikes in tuition, interest that forces students to pay back multiple times the amount they borrowed — it is undeniable that society funnels most kids toward university enrollment.

We claim to know that everyone learns differently and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education, but we haven’t done a good job of putting that into action.

A potential answer, then, is to offer alternative models of school before university. Career and technical education has been gaining traction throughout the country recently. CTE aims to teach students technical skills that can be directly applied to potential careers. CTE will look different in different places, but a high school in Fresno, California, may be particularly relevant for Hawaii.

Career Technical Education Charter High School is currently in its fifth year with students. CTEC refracts traditional high school curriculum through the lens of the major industries in the county: construction and manufacturing. Unlike shop classes at traditional high schools, which are merely available for those who are interested and are usually meant for students who struggle in academic classes, construction and manufacturing are interwoven with all core and elective classes at CTEC.

Teaching Technical Skills Along With A Traditional Curriculum

In freshman year, all students take a yearlong course for both construction and manufacturing, but by the end of the year they choose one to focus on. Elective classes are geared toward those pathways – classes on how to use machines and tools, construction management, how to use computer-aided design software.

Core classes focus on academics related to construction and manufacturing: in English classes, students work on presentations for industry partners, or write proposals and professional letters seeking clarification from clients. History classes go in-depth on how manufacturing influences warfare and economic development, as well as why building codes and regulations exist.

Science and math become tangible endeavors as opposed to conceptual exercises. “Students learn about circuits and electronics, the relationship between current and voltage and resistance,” said John DeLapp, a science teacher and University of Hawaii graduate who used to teach at Kaimuki High School and Le Jardin Academy. “What makes concrete hard? What is the chemical reaction that takes place? What happens when you add too much water, or not enough? What happens to its tensile strength when you add rocks or sand or rebar?”

Career and technical education, which aims to teach students technical skills, has been gaining traction throughout the country. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

“Our program gives the required math knowledge a purpose,” said Brian Emerson, an instructor of advanced manufacturing whose background is as a business owner and engineer. “If you’re putting a roof on a house, you have to use correct geometry. They aren’t asking, ‘When am I gonna use this?’ Just wait till tomorrow, you’ll use this.”

Both Emerson and DeLapp are founding members of CTEC. Both see the value of an education that is hands-on and directly applicable to their communities, especially when it comes to student engagement.

“We focus on multiple learning modalities,” Emerson said. “It’s not the typical ‘read it and listen.’ It’s kinesthetic learning. It’s saying ‘let’s work on it together and practice,’ how the journeyman process for a millennia has worked.”

“The things you’re doing in class are not worksheets,” said DeLapp. “You’re problem solving, producing things, making things people can see. That authenticity pulls students in more.”

Dual Enrollment

At the end of every semester, students engage in showcase projects where they give public presentations on something they researched or investigated, or a product they developed. This encourages family involvement as well as participation from local businesses who may end up hiring the students once they graduate.

All of this culminates with a senior year internship, where students get on-site experience for 10-16 hours every week. When the requisite hours have been fulfilled, students receive a $2,200 scholarship.

“About 80% of our graduates last year got offered full-time employment prior to graduating,” Emerson said. “And 65% of them left with a job above $18 per hour.” And for students going into engineering or other related fields that require a college degree, they have a headstart on experience and skills compared to most of their peers coming from traditional high schools.

Of course, the purpose of education is not just to get a job and make money; learning is intrinsically valuable. CTEC offers dual-enrollment with Fresno City College. When students graduate, they have also earned an associates degree at no extra cost. Even if students don’t end up going into construction or manufacturing, this makes going to college substantially less expensive.

“In the same way you shouldn’t expect all kids to go to college, you shouldn’t expect all kids to go into construction and manufacturing,” DeLapp said. “If you’re looking for something to do and trying to discover your passion, you’re still going to need a job to support yourself. Having training and skills in these pathways means you can do more stimulating work, and make more money than most entry-level jobs out of high school.”

Another benefit of this model is that the teaching staff will in some ways more closely reflect the student population. Not every student in a typical high school will go to college, but every teacher is required to go to college. This creates an asymmetry of life experience and expectations, which partially explains why schools tend to tilt kids in the direction of higher education; our default is to teach what we know.

“They aren’t asking, ‘When am I gonna use this?’ Just wait till tomorrow, you’ll use this.” — CTEC co-founder Brian Emerson

When students have more opportunities to see themselves in their teachers, it opens up new possibilities.

“We have kids who aren’t confident in a traditional school setting, but they take pride in building something. We have gold star students in the classroom who struggle in the shop. It exposes kids to different types of intelligences, and it shows that achievement can take place in different ways,” said DeLapp.

But it isn’t easy to get a school like CTEC up and running. There are safety concerns, since unskilled students are using live machinery. It’s also expensive. “We’ll spend $40,000 on lumber and basic tools this year,” Emerson said. “We’ve put $190,000 into machines. Most schools don’t have a budget like that.” CTEC raises funds through grants as well as donations from local industries.

Another challenge is finding qualified instructors who have construction and manufacturing experience, but are also capable of teaching a group of 20 teenagers. There is a difference between knowing how to do something and showing how to do something, and the communication skills require a type of code-switching between worksite culture and classroom culture.

Those instructors make less as teachers than they do in their fields, especially since the pay structure of teaching typically only recognizes years in the classroom and levels of educational attainment – not years of experience working in construction.

But if these challenges can be navigated, there’s a great deal of potential in this model for Hawaii. Construction is a mid-major industry here, one of the few sectors that wasn’t decimated during the pandemic. People are hungry for career opportunities outside of tourism, and this is a powerful way to nurture other industries. We could even expand a CTE high school to include Hawaiian cultural practices, wildlife restoration and agricultural development.

As calls to diversify our economy grow louder, we should start by diversifying the options we provide for our students.

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Latest Comments (0)

No doubt that the Career Technical Education Charter High School in California has much to offer as a model for high school education in Hawaii. At first glance, each public high school would require a CTE coordinator whose duties would include "building bridges" into the working areas, instead of the academic arenas, surrounding each school. Oh, but wait, there is already in place ClimbHi which provides initial avenues into working areas across the islands. Why is there not already a CTE coordinator at each high school taking advantage of an organization that is already in place? Could the possibility exist that financing college tuition creates so much political influence that policy makers only see college readiness as a prerequisite to career readiness? Why are our public high schools in a condition of paralysis? Because they are not allowed to make their own decisions.

SwingMan · 1 year ago

I wish the author had done some more research because Hawaii has already started moving towards this model years ago.

Caniscle · 1 year ago

When in Europe, you can see REAL "journeymen" traveling throughout a region going about the traditions of offering skilled work for room & board. This sort of charter school is a great idea. In many ways, a person that is knowledgeable in the "arts" of metal work, wood work, plumbing and creating things is worth his/her weight 100 times more than someone that can talk politics or philosophize.

WhatMeWorry · 1 year ago

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