Getting to know the Billings Career Center

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Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s August 2017 issue. Never miss an issue, check out SFM’s digital editions, here

article by Rebecca Stewart
photos courtesy of Billings Career Center

Billings Career Center, we’ve heard of it, we’ve driven past it on Central Avenue, nestled in next to City College, though we’ve maybe mistaken it for part of the college’s campus. Not a standalone high school, it is Billings Public High Schools. It is Billings West, Senior, and Skyview. (As well as being a place for Billings Central, homeschool, and Laurel students). So we know where it is, but do we know what it does? What its purpose is? Perhaps. But there are still plenty of misconceptions floating around out there. And as the 2016-’17 school year came to a close, the Billings business community and the Career Center put into motion a partnership that will help the school live out its purpose more intentionally, starting this 2017-’18 school year.

Before we dive into this exciting partnership and what it will mean for both the students and the business community, let’s first talk about what the Career Center is, and do away with some of the more common misconceptions. To do that, we talked with Career Center principal/director, Scott Anderson, a long-time administrator in the district, and passionate advocate for the Career Center and its varied and exceptional program offerings.

Aerospace-Engineering, Metal Working, Photography, Medical Careers, EMT - just a few of the programs available at BCC!
Aerospace-Engineering, Metal Working, Photography, Medical Careers, EMT – just a few of the programs available at BCC!

Overview of Billings Career Center

The Billings Career Center offers an active approach to learning with multiple opportunities in vocational and technical education that can be paired with academic preparation at a student’s main school. Students can develop employment skills, receive their high school diploma, and prepare for college all at the same time! Via the classes offered, students could have the opportunity to build a house, repair automobiles, teach pre-kindergarten children, learn digital photography, welding, machining, web page design, study interior design, have their own plant projects, learn culinary arts, study the medical field, and lots more. The Career Center offers many Articulation Agreements with numerous colleges. These agreements allow Career Center students to receive college credit for the vocational classes that are taken/passed there. Students register for these classes the same way they do the classes at their main school. –adapted from www.billingscc.org/about.html

Getting to know the Career Center: Debunking misconceptions

  • When the Career Center was built in 1975, it was traditionally trades that were studied, and it served roughly 400 students.
  • Over 1,000 students are registered for the 2017-’18 school year. Most of those kids are half-time at the Career Center, half-time at their main school buildings. About 130 students are full-time.
  • It’s been roughly the last five years that high school students in grades 9-12 could attend classes at the Career Center, previously it was only juniors and seniors.
  • The mindset in the early years was, “If you can’t do school, do trades.” Along with that same line of thinking, says Mr. Anderson, was/is “Kids who can’t do school, do an alternative school, with a perception that the trades and alternatives are one and the same, which they’re not. But there’s still that stigma.”
  • The mission of the Career Center is to get students Career to College-ready. There are still lingering notions that “Maybe we’re a little less than, a little bit easier,” and that might have been somewhat true through the ‘80s and even ‘90s, pre-honors classes being available, but for each of the thousand plus kids who attend classes at the Career Center, it’s their choice. And with that comes responsibility, says Mr. Anderson.
  • Career Technical Education (CTE) classes take the philosophy and foundation of the core classes in an application setting. What Mr. Anderson calls “Contextualized learning. Taking knowledge and applying that in a real-life, problem-solving setting.”
  • There’s a belief that you can do CTE without Core, and vice-versa, which is “So wrong,” Mr. Anderson explains because “When you talk about someone working on your car right now, the technical manuals are at a higher reading level than Shakespeare ever thought of being…[kids today] are now learning twice as much, they have to be more readable, more technically-savvy. There’s this misnomer that kids who can’t read as well, you put them in something that’s more hands-on; well the thing with hands-on, it doesn’t mean brains off.”

The road ahead

Our children go to school for 13 years, and at the end of that road, adulthood looms. Decisions have to be made: will they continue in school? Will they enlist in the military? Or is heading straight into the workforce more their ideal? Perhaps the bigger question: Are they prepared?

Reality Check: According to the 2017 State of the Workforce Report, employers in Yellowstone County are projected to have more than 15,000 job openings in the next five years, more than 5,000 of these are due to economic growth, and 9,600 due to worker replacement.

With these needs needing to be met, we circle back to “Are they prepared,” and more importantly, what are we doing to prepare our students to be on the path to success following high school?

Creating a link

CTE PartnershipThis past year it was determined that a CTE Partnership would be created between School District 2 and BillingsWorks/Big Sky Economic Development to create and council a Career and Technical Business Liaison Director. To get the ball rolling on this partnership, 20 businesses in the Billings community are contributing $2,500 for three years, which will help to cover the salary of that liaison position. The hope is, at the end of the three years the district will take over the costs, as this is a district employee – dependent, of course, on legislation and levies.

The goals of this partnership are to create an easier link between the business community’s needs and how the programs offered at the Career Center can reflect the needs of the community, Yellowstone County, state, and national – in that order. As Wayne Nelson, president of Stockman Bank and member of the school’s advisory council, notes, “The businesses can tell the Career Center and School District 2 that we need high school graduates coming out of the Career Center with job skills A, B, C in various fields…We’ve got business input, the Career Center listening, and the businesses potentially making donations to perhaps even provide equipment that the students will need to know how to use to work in their business; providing pathways to good wages and a career, so they have good jobs coming out of high school.” Mr. Anderson adds that it’s about all of us having to change and grow and expand, “Not only do we need better math scores in our district, but we need students who are more ready to take the next step in their life, whatever that is.” Now, it’s about being “a bit more strategic in our approach than we were before, and more collective together.”

It’s an exciting time for students to be in school, with so many opportunities to discover, explore, and develop a heart for what they want to do in life. If this partnership shows anything, it’s that “It takes a village” applies long past infancy.