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State superintendent visits Grafton to promote career and tech ed opportunities

Jill Underly says career and technical education programs help students prepare for life after high school

Jill Underly meets with Grafton High School Students
State Superintendent Jill Underly, middle, meets with Grafton High School Students in as they worked to prepare recipes in an advanced foods and restaurant management course Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. (Joe Schulz/WPR)

State Superintendent Jill Underly toured Grafton High School Tuesday to promote career and technical education opportunities in Wisconsin school districts.

In addition to Grafton, Underly visited schools in New Berlin and Germantown on Monday, and plans to make stops at schools in Mishicot and Green Bay on Wednesday. The visits are part of Career and Technical Education month in Wisconsin.

During Tuesday’s tour, Underly visited students and teachers in a family and consumer sciences classroom, the school’s metal shop, automotive shop and the student-run school store. She also learned about a program aimed at helping students find careers in education.

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“The whole point of (career and technical education) is kids discovering more about themselves and their learning styles and discovering their passions for after high school,” she said. 

Underly also said visits with students, like the ones she’s had this week, help the Department of Public Instruction create policies that are responsive to kids’ needs. She said the agency’s goal is to make sure Wisconsin students leave high school as prepared as possible for college or the workforce.

“That’s what’s so rewarding about going out and talking to kids,” she said. “I love kids, and the whole reason that our agency exists is to make sure that they have these opportunities.”

State Superintendent Jill Underly speaks with a student
State Superintendent Jill Underly, right, speaks with a Grafton High School student working on a car in an automotive course Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. Joe Schulz/WPR

Grafton students Aiden Lamas and Michael Sewell spoke to Underly during their advanced automotives course. They talked about participating in the Technicians of Tomorrow competition, put on by the Automobile Dealers Association of Metro Milwaukee. They said the competition requires hours outside of the school day but allowed them to better their skills.

Lamas said the courses help prepare him for life after high school.

“We basically go through almost everything you would see in an actual career,” he said.

Automotive instructor Nic Fullington said many of the skills students learn in his classes are transferable to careers outside the automotive industry.

“We call it auto, but it’s really not auto,” he said. “It’s anything you really want to go into in the trades.”

Underly also visited with students in an introduction to education class, which exposes students to career opportunities in education.

James Johnson, the course’s instructor, said one of the goals of the class is to help students view education through a teacher’s eyes.

“All 14 students are placed in one of our two elementary schools with a cooperating teacher that’s volunteering to put their time and energy in,” he said. “The number of people throughout the district that are playing a role in this class is wild.”

Students work at the Grafton High School Metal Shop on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. State Superintendent Jill Underly visited the school to promote career and technical education opportunities. Joe Schulz/WPR

Underly met with Ryden Luedtke, a senior at Grafton High School who plans to study business in college. Luedtke said he’s taken nearly every business course offered by the school, and has spent time working at the school store to learn more about running his own enterprise.

“Doing inventory, understanding costs and everything like that has really helped me for what I’m actually going to do in my life, because that’s the path that I want to go on,” he said. “Being a manager and then being able to run a store in school is a really cool opportunity.”

Grafton School District Superintendent Jeff Nelson said giving opportunities, like the ones shared with Underly, are important to the district’s mission of ensuring students are “college, career and life ready” when they graduate.

“We want students to leave here, having an experience that prepares them for what’s the next step,” he said. “Even in our auto area, not all the students that are in that class are going into auto. And that’s okay because they’re having an experience that’s a life skill.”