Technical Education Post

News and Information for Technical Educators

$220Million for Iowa CTE

Metro High School senior Jordan Vanove is creating a robot arm precise enough to pick up a 3-inch-wide hexagon and launch a paper airplane. Her class — which combines technical skills with traditional science and math standards required to graduate — is creating the robot to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge, where teams design, build and code robots to compete against other teams across the state and — if they do well and advance — from around the world. $220Million for Iowa CTE.

Building the robot requires students to learn to code, operate computerized machinery for cutting parts with water jets and lasers and use a 3D printer.

“I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of students going through this program and how it’s building confidence,” said Matthew Secl, advanced manufacturing and robotics teacher at Metro High, an alternative school in the Cedar Rapids Community School District designed to help students disengaged in the traditional school model.

Integrated classes like this enable students to combine technical skills with traditional standards — like math and science — required to graduate.

“When there’s a challenge or a competition or real-world application, learning is a lot more impactful,” said Chuck Tonelli, a science teacher at Metro. “There’s not a right answer, it’s not a worksheet, everyone’s robot is unique and different. There’s a million right answers.”

Classroom Space

As the classes Secl and Tonelli teach continue to grow in size and ambition to keep up with skills required in the building and trades industry, the classroom space available is becoming inadequate.

“I teach on the second floor of a building that was a kindergarten classroom,“ Secl said. ”It doesn’t have tall enough ceilings. To get materials into the building, we have to go up a staircase. The things we build when they go out the door need to be able to be moved down the stairs and turn a corner.“

The equipment used in the Metro High classrooms requires an amount of electricity that isn’t accessible by using a standard wall outlet, he said. “It isn’t about buying a new piece of equipment and plugging it in. The infrastructure isn’t there.”

In this occasional series, The Gazette will explore career and technical education programs in the Cedar Rapids Community School District — and the infrastructure needed for the programs to keep up in the 21st century.

Bond Issue

Additions to Cedar Rapids high schools for career and technical education is just one priority of the district’s facility plan that would be funded by a $220 million general obligation bond issue heading to district voters Nov. 7.

In Iowa, school bond issues — basically, loans that schools take out — require a supermajority of 60 percent to pass. In passing bond issues, voters in the district agree to repay the loan, with interest, through their property taxes. If the bond is approved, the Cedar Rapids schools property tax rate would increase from $14.67 to $17.33 per $1,000 of taxable value.

A renewed focus on career and technical education also is a part of the district’s strategic plan, approved last month by the Cedar Rapids school board. District leaders have set a goal of to improving graduation rates by 10 percent and ensuring every graduate leaves with college credit or industry certification by May 2027.

Last month, the school board approved a contract with Steele Dynamics Consulting Services to provide services to develop a three- to five-year action plan to create college and career pathways. The $70,000 contract is being funded by a federal magnet schools grant the district was awarded last year.

As a part of this effort, a task force is being created for strategic planning collaboration to provide input on four to six high-skill, high-wage and high-demand career pathways that meet the demands of the Cedar Rapids area labor market, among other things.

The Iowa Department of Education breaks down career and technical education into six services areas:

  • Agriculture, food and natural resources
  • Applied sciences, technology, engineering and manufacturing
  • Human services, such as hospitality and tourism, and public safety
  • Information solutions, including information technology, arts, audio and video technology and communications
  • Health sciencesAnd business, finance, marketing and managemente

Iowa school districts are required to offer courses within four of the six categories.

Currently, about 34 percent of students in the district take two years or more of sequential courses in career and technical education, according to data from the district presented Sept. 25 to the school board. About 14 percent of the district’s students receive college credit through Kirkwood Community College while in high school.

Tara Troester, content lead for career and technical education in Cedar Rapids schools, said this type of learning is about helping students discover what they’re passionate about instead of asking them “what do you want to do for the rest of your life, which is so intimidating.”

Currently, the district offers career pathways — two years or more of sequential courses — in engineering, business and marketing, construction, education, culinary and computer science, Troester said. There are also foundation classes in welding, automotive, interior design and manufacturing that Troester — and other educators in the district — would like to see expanded.

“It’s preparing students for current and emerging careers,” Troester said.

About 80 percent of students who dropped out of high school say that real-world learning and seeing the connection between school and a good job would have kept them in school, Troester said.

Students who concentrate in an area of career and technical education while in high school, however, have an average graduation rate of 94 percent.

Students with a disability who are in career and technical education also have better outcomes, with 3 percent fewer absences, 5 percent more likely to graduate on time and 20 percent more likely to be employed after graduation, Troester said, citing national data.

As Metro High continues to lean in to career and technical education, student projects can be seen on display around the community.

In May 2021, students completed an art installation — building three benches that look like the Czech pastry kolaches that were placed in Czech Village of Cedar Rapids.

That summer, Metro High student’s work was again on display at the newly-opened Mini Pines Miniature Golf Course at Twin Pines, where a miniature version of the Tree of Five Seasons sculpture was installed.


Today, students are working to build benches, planters and compost bins for the school’s new greenhouse completed over the summer. The greenhouse was funded by a $25,000 grant from the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council STEM BEST program with a matching $25,000 from the Wellmark Foundation. The greenhouse itself was not built by students.

By the time the project is completed, Secl said the greenhouse will be operated by a computerized gardening system that will water the plants, monitor moisture in the soil and even notify when produce is ready to be harvested.

Carlos Ibarra, 19, a senior at Metro High, said the construction course was “definitely one of my favorites” and is helping him explore careers in the trade industries while earning credits toward graduation.

Source: $220Million for Iowa CTE.

Little capacity for Cedar Rapids schools’ career and technical education to grow

Expanding programs for in-demand jobs priority of $220M bond referendum

$220Million for Iowa CTE.

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