Innovative program exposes underserved students to CTE
Jessica Concie and Oster Hernandez, transition coordinators for the College of Western Idaho’s (CWI) Dual Credit department, have long believed in the power of CTE. So, when Concie discovered CWI’s Center for New Directions had assembled a plastic trunk filled with a lesson plan and some hands-on activities using an included circuit board to introduce students to CWI’s Mechatronics program, she thought it would be a perfect way to spark the interest of students enrolled at alternative high schools in the Treasure Valley.
“Oster and I have a soft spot for these kids because they’re so often overlooked. A lot of them are just trying to get through high school; they’re not thinking about what’s next or what could be,” said Concie. “CTE programs tend to work really well for these students because they’re so hands-on, and students can clearly see how what they learn connects to careers.”
With the support and approval of their supervisor, Concie and Hernandez created the Pop the Trunk initiative. To expose these students to some of the 41 CTE programs offered at CWI, Concie and Hernandez approached CTE faculty about creating a week’s worth of lesson plans to introduce potential students to their CTE program. The lesson plans would be accompanied by trunks—one per student—filled with equipment and activities to support the lessons. Materials were purchased using grant money, and the program is available at no cost to students or teachers.
Pop the Trunk launched during the 2021-2022 school year with three programs: Mechatronics, Unmanned Aerial Systems, and Drafting. Concie and Hernandez reached out to alternative high schools throughout the Treasure Valley to let them know the program was available.
“We sent out emails to see who was interested, then we dropped off a trunk with the teacher so they could see the lesson plans and play with the trunks. If they liked what they saw, we’d deliver the trunks so they could use them with their students,” said Hernandez.
Teachers and students at Meridian Academy in Meridian, Initial Point High School in Kuna, Eagle Academy in Eagle, and Middleton Academy in Middleton liked what they saw. Now in its second semester, Pop the Trunk continues to grow in scope and popularity. Additional trunks for Automotive Technology, Diesel, and Welding are being developed, and CTE faculty who help develop the trunks and the teachers at the alternative high schools will receive a $500 stipend for their help in developing and using the program starting the spring 2023 semester. In addition, other technical colleges, such as the College of Southern Idaho, have reached out to mirror the program elsewhere in the state.
“It’s been hugely successful because it allows students without access to a lot of resources or support to see what’s possible,” said Hernandez. “We’re looking at expanding the program to rural schools, too.”
Long term, Concie and Hernandez would love to see technical colleges nationwide create their own Pop the Trunk programs to help underserved and overlooked student populations discover CTE. In fact, they were accepted to give a presentation on the initiative at the ACTE Vision Conference in Las Vegas in December 2022.
“I hope schools in other states see the program is working. If we can do it in Idaho, we can do it anywhere,” said Concie. “This is a fantastic way to expose students to what CTE is all about who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity.”