On a brisk winter morning, voice recorder in one hand, pen and pad in the other, I scurry to keep pace with Annette Fewins as she ushers me through the corridors of Benicia High. She is showing me a side of my alma mater I wasn’t even aware was there: the Career and Technical Education program, which aims to provide courses that prepare students for a multitude of professional careers, and for which Fewins has come out of retirement to continue to coordinate. While this program was indeed in place when I attended (woodshop, auto shop, and dance classes being its primary offerings), its present-day iteration is nearly unrecognizable.

The CTE program underwent an overhaul after losing its auto shop and woodshop teachers. Fewins says it was at that time she realized “that there was a real need to offer these classes for kids.” In 2017, the program got the refresh it needed with help from the CTE Incentive Grant. This grant provides funds to the school and holds its CTE curriculum to standards put forth by the California Department of Education. The State Plan states, “CTE programs are dynamic; curricula need to stay current with rapid changes in the workplace, requiring ongoing updates and learning on the part of CTE faculty.” The standards are informed by recommendations from individuals representing secondary and post-secondary education and businesses within the industries targeted by the CTE program.

Benicia High School has taken those standards and run with them. Today’s program has reinvigorated its initial offerings and expanded to provide career education in various other fields as well. Judging by the packed and energized classrooms Fewins and I pass through on our walkabout, it seems the students are taking advantage of all the program has to offer.

  • Welding & Fabrication/Construction & Building

    What were the auto shop and woodshop classes are now in this suite of courses, taught by Steve Shields. These courses include introductory and advanced courses in construction and building trades, as well as welding and automotive trades. Students from this program have exited with the knowledge and skills to enter directly into the workforce in one of these fields.

  • Dance

    The dance program, taught by Samantha Sanchez, has maintained its tri-level structure with a focus on technique and choreography, but has expanded to include segments dedicated to self-promotion in the field of dance, elements of production, and pedagogy. These courses help prepare students to enter the dance field in a variety of capacities.

  • Computer Tech/Digital Media

    Taught by Rocky Kim, this course focuses on learning the fundamentals of digital media, including the creation and editing of digital photos and video. Students learn design concepts and tips for self-promotion in the field while becoming familiar with software used by industry professionals.

  • Intro to Programming/Robotics/Engineering & Architecture/Computer Principles

    Taught by Andreas Kaiser, these classes introduce students to the quickly changing fields of tech and engineering. Students get to build and program their own robots and video games, learn to use industry software like CAD, and generally gain insight to applying fundamental STEM courses to real careers.

  • Medical Careers/Medical Science

    Taught by Anouk Dorrance, these courses are taught in a two-level format which offers a survey of various health care careers and introduces students to medical terminology, human body systems and diseases, as well as industry regulations and ethical quandaries in the field. Students gain a fundamental knowledge and skills to start them on their path to a healthcare career.

Not only do these CTE “pathways,” as they are called, give students an opportunity to test out an industry before entering the workforce or choosing a major in college, in most cases they also allow students to earn college credit before graduating high school. Many of the pathways also offer avenues into internships and industry networking opportunities. The Construction Pathway, for instance, has helped students apply to Caterpillar’s internship program. Two AP Computer Science students won the Congressional App Challenge this year; their designs will be on display at the U.S. Capitol and featured on the House website. 

Benicia High School’s CTE program also helps students realize how their career choices can impact their community. Mr. Shields’ students are building playhouses for our local elementary schools and servicing BUSD vehicles. Mr. Kaiser’s Architecture students are drawing up plans for low-income housing in Benicia. Mr. Kim’s students have worked with dance students to shoot and edit their headshots in preparation for auditions. Through iQuest, another course offered in the CTE program, one of Ms. Sanchez’s students is interning at a local dance school to learn about teaching dance to kids in our community. 

According to Fewins, “our CTE programs have been a crucial part of the two year increase in College and Career Readiness of our graduates, as measured by the state. In 2018, we increased 19% and in 2019 we increased an additional 6%. In the Class of 2019, 19% of the graduates completed a CTE Pathway — a 12% increase from the previous class.” In the vein of career readiness, the program requires each student to prepare a personal portfolio that includes a resume, cover letter, and samples of student work, and also to participate in mock interviews. Fewins adds, “Our CTE Pathways appreciate the support of our community and are looking for business partners to advise our programs, guest speakers and matching donations to support our grants. As our Pathway offerings grow, so do the opportunities for our students to enter the workforce in a way that has a meaningful impact in our region, whether they are college-bound or not.”


For more information about Benicia High School’s CTE program: https://bhs.beniciaunified.org/departments/courses/career-and-technical-education/

For more information about the Congressional App Challenge winners: http://www.timesheraldonline.com/two-benicia-high-school-students-win-app-challenge


Industry professionals who want to get involved, please email: afewins@beniciaunified.org