CTE Success Stories: ‘It prepares you for whatever comes’

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

For Jeremy Estes, taking career and technical education classes meant something more than what a syllabus or test score can capture. It made him feel good about going to class.

“It gave me more motivation to go to school," he said. "All my friends were in that class. It felt like family.”

Estes graduated in 2014 from George Washington High School. He was enrolled in the Sports Marketing & Management program, which provides instruction in entrepreneurship, business economics, human relations, and related fields.

Estes said that his reasons for joining the program in 10th grade were simple.

“I saw the course, I’m into sports, and thought ‘I would like this,’” he said.

In addition to learning the textbook lessons on sports business, Estes said, he developed marketable skills that could be applied to many more fields. The career-focused DECA competitions that his class participated in, especially, gave him an opportunity to practice those real-world skills.

DECA, previously known as the Distributive Education Clubs of America, is a national organization known for hosting competitive events that simulate the business world. The competitions are meant to prepare students for college or careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and business management.

“We did a lot of practicing for interviews for the competitions for DECA but, in reality, for jobs,” Estes said.

Through preparing for DECA’s events he gained interviewing skills and confidence in public speaking. But Estes also credits his teacher, Sheryl Kirby, for how the CTE program prepared him for life after high school.

“She made sure we were conscious about our own personal aspirations, conscious of what we wanted. It evolved us into becoming professionals,” he said.

“It wasn’t just sports marketing. Our teacher cared about what we wanted to do in the future, and it was that extra step that molded us as better people for the future.”

Today, Estes, 19, is a sophomore at Drexel University and is studying information technology. Drexel was his top choice, but at first, the cost made it seem unlikely that he’d be able to go.

“My mom’s a single mom. We don’t have a lot of disposable income,” he said.

Drawing on the interviewing skills he learned in his CTE program, Estes won a scholarship from Drexel’s Liberty Scholars Program. Liberty Scholars provides 50 recent Philadelphia high school graduates with an annually renewable scholarship that covers 100 percent of their tuition and fees, an effort meant to let students attend the school regardless of background.

The scholarship competition included an evaluative interview, and Estes said that his experience in the sports marketing courses helped him feel at ease during the process.

Estes said of what he learned in high school: “All the skills helped pay for school. I’m really happy in that regard. If I didn’t get the scholarship, I wasn’t going to go. A lot came down to that. It was my number one choice, and chances didn’t seem great, but things worked out.”

During his freshman year in college, Estes said, he faced new challenges like managing increased personal responsibility and having to adjust to the school environment, but he said he also felt substantially more familiar with the course material than other students.

“I really appreciate the CTE program. It taught me everything I’m learning at college," he said. "The stuff I did at Washington, it was embedded in my brain so much, it felt like it was stuff I already knew coming in to college, and others didn’t.”

Looking to the future, Estes said he wants a job where he can support students as his CTE classes supported him.

“I want a job that’s also giving back. I want to be a computer teacher or work on implementing technology within the School District,” he said.

His high school classes, he said, “made me be grateful for what we do already have in the School District. With budget cuts, kids are getting more taken away.”

The fact that Estes entered Drexel with sports marketing as his major and changed it to information technology speaks to the transferability of the skills he gained from the sports marketing program.

“It prepares you for whatever comes.”

Michaela Ward was an intern at the Notebook this summer.