A woman uses dental instruments on a mannequin.

Kali Coleman, a senior at Spencer County High School, displays her knowledge of dentistry during the 2023 CTE Showcase at the Kentucky State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2023. Coleman is one of 10 students participating in the Shelby County Area Technology Center (ATC) dental assistant program. Photo by Joe Ragusa, Feb. 21, 2023

Students participating in one of 32 different career and technical education (CTE) programs across Kentucky got the chance to show what they are learning at the Kentucky State Capitol on Feb. 21.

Kali Coleman, a senior at Spencer County High School, participates in the dental assistant program offered at the Shelby County Area Technology Center (ATC). During the showcase, she performed various dental procedures on a mannequin.

Coleman said she started participating in the program at the beginning of the year to get a jump start on her dentistry career.

“I’m very fortunate because it gets my foot in the door,” she said.

The Shelby County ATC table was one of several that lined the mezzanine level of the Capitol with student-led exhibitions of CTE programs. Kentucky currently offers over 135 state-wide career pathways, many in Kentucky’s top 5 in-demand industry sectors.

Coleman goes to class three days a week and spends the other two days each week working at a rotating group of dental offices and getting paid to do it.

“I love it. I love my job,” she said. “It’ll give me more of an experience on how I want to run my (dental) office one day.”

The program also ultimately saves Coleman thousands of dollars that she would have otherwise had to pay if she pursued a similar path at a college. Rebecca Clark, a dental instructor at the Shelby County ATC, said she started the program in 2018 because she saw the effects of the costs of such programs.

“These young ladies would come to the offices that I was working in and they’d be in massive amounts of debt and worried how they were going to pay their school loans,” she said. “And I was just like, this is crazy. I can just teach this.”

Coleman said she plans to continue pursuing dentistry as she heads to the University of Kentucky in the fall.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has been celebrating the benefits of CTE as part of Career and Technical Education Month. Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass said the approach to CTE is transforming how we create a qualified workforce in Kentucky.

“CTE is a valued and vital part of education in our schools,” he said. “CTE educators work with employers all over the state to fast-track Kentucky students into careers that fuel economic growth.”

At the same table as Coleman, Eminence High School Senior Sara Welch displayed what she has been learning as part of the Shelby County ATC health sciences program. She said she has learned a lot from her teachers over the last three years as she started her path toward becoming a nurse.

“I knew that I always wanted to help people, so I just thought I wanted to go into the medical field,” she said.

Sawyer Lewis, a junior at Scott County High School and a student at the Elkhorn Crossing School, was part of a group displaying what they have been learning about engineering.

“Engineering is so varied and it’s very constructive,” Lewis said about the reasons he signed up for the program when he was a freshman. “It’s satisfying to build things or design things and see them actually work, and it helps people in a lot of ways.”

The General Assembly increased funding for CTE by $58 million in the 2022-2024 biennial budget, allowing the number of funded CTE locations to increase from 96 to 316.

A top priority of KDE’s Office of Career and Technical Education is to sustain adequate funding for all CTE programs going forward and to revise the current CTE funding formula to include performance-based high-quality indicators.  The new funding formula will ensure CTE programs provide the relevancy and rigor needed for postsecondary success for students.

In the 2021-2022 school year, 71% of Kentucky high school students – nearly 140,000 people – participated in CTE programs. More than 50,000 Kentucky students were affiliated with a Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) in Kentucky.

At Tuesday’s event, Gov. Andy Beshear signed a proclamation honoring February 2023 as Career and Technical Education Month in the Commonwealth.

Funding for the showcase was made possible through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.