BOULDER - For more than 50 years, the Boulder Technical Education Center, better known as Boulder TEC, has been a place where career dreams come true. BVSD students, regardless of where they are enrolled, have the opportunity to build the skills and earn the certifications needed to kick-start a career in a variety of industries from cosmetology to computer science and medical to manufacturing.
BVSD has even bigger aspirations for the centralized campus in the future.
What is Boulder TEC?
Boulder Valley School District’s career and technical education center was founded in 1967 and initially provided students training to become secretaries, welders and mechanics.
Over the years it has grown to meet the changing interests of students and needs of industry.
Today there are ten programs at Boulder TEC:
Automotive Collision Repair
Automotive Service Technology
Cosmetology - Esthetics, Hair Styling & Design, and Nail Technology
Early Childhood Education
Emergency Medical Response
Forensics Investigation & Criminology
BVSD high school students are able to register for TEC classes during the normal registration process at their high school.
“Boulder TEC is a connection and an extension of every BVSD high school,” explained Arlie Huffman, BVSD’s director of Career and Technical Education (CTE).
Students remain enrolled in their home high school, taking typical high school courses for half the day and then spending the other half diving deeply into a specific industry, learning directly from experts in that field.
“It is a half a day, everyday that students are here,” Huffman said “You can do a tremendous amount with that amount of time. They can get into really complex, in-depth projects that are often real world, not something contrived by a teacher or whomever.”
“It is real life skills that I’m gaining through classes that I’m getting high school credit for that are going to actually help me with a career for my life,” said Jaycie Baca, Boulder TEC cosmetology student. “I’ll graduate with not only my hair but also my esthetician license. I’m basically walking away with a career almost. I have this license -- I can practice on my own, I can practice in a salon.”
By having a centralized campus, BVSD is able to provide the space, resources and specialized teachers needed to offer state-of-the-art experiences in a variety of industries for all BVSD students.
“It makes sense to have it all here -- to spend the money, resources in a place,” Huffman said. “The equipment is often very expensive. Additionally, it is very difficult to find people who have very high level industry certifications, have been in industry for a long time and want to teach. There aren’t very many out there like that, so if we can find one or two in a program area and bringing them to Boulder TEC. It makes a lot of sense.”
Additionally, by centralizing everything, it is possible for BVSD to provide transportation. Twice a day buses run from home high schools to Boulder TEC and twice a day they pick up students from Boulder TEC and bring them back to their home campuses.
One of BVSD’s best kept secrets
While the center has been around for more than a half-century, the staff at the program regularly hear from people – including BVSD teachers and administrators – who have never heard about Boulder TEC or the opportunities that it provides BVSD students.
“From time to time, the teachers who chaperone the [eighth-grade] students are amazed during the tour,” said Boulder TEC counselor Amy Buss. “They had no idea this is here.”
Boulder TEC is determined to change that.
Every year, the program provides tours for eighth-grade students and Showcase Evenings for prospective high school parents and students, so that they can see all that the center offers.
“The teachers really roll out the red carpet, so that students and parents can get a taste of what the center has to offer,” said Buss. “We hope that people see this as an incredible opportunity.”
Building stronger CTE pathways
Part of the confusion is that Career and Technical Education is integrated into every BVSD secondary school. Boulder TEC is the capstone that provides students with hands-on, industry-level experiences, which naturally lead to an internship, apprenticeship or a job. Plus several of the programs have concurrent enrollment options, so students can get a jump-start on their college degrees, saving students’ time and parents’ money.
Regardless of the industry a student wants to pursue, they begin with the courses offered at their home high school. Since Huffman’s arrival last summer, he has been working to strengthen these career “pathways,” to ensure that courses needed to start in any industry are available at BVSD high schools.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but that is what we want to build towards,” Huffman said. “My long-term vision is that we will have CTE programs in all of our secondary schools that are on these pathways and then students can go to Boulder TEC to get really specialized and go much farther in those areas.”
For instance, he is currently working with Broomfield and Monarch high schools to implement a geometry in construction program that would likely focus on tenth graders.
“The students who come out of that and say, ‘yeah, I want to be in the construction industry, whether that is in project management, a plumber, you name it – they would come to Boulder TEC for our Construction Trades program and get really in-depth,” Huffman said.
He isn’t stopping at the secondary level. He hopes to begin CTE efforts as early as possible.
“We want to provide a continuum of opportunities for students, starting in preschool. It starts with awareness and getting their hands into things,” Huffman said. “We all know what it is like when you walk into a kindergarten or first-grade class. It is all about experimenting. They want to learn about everything. They want to try it.”
Huffman said it is critically important for students to keep their curiosity and passion for learning alive, as they learn how to critically think, collaborate, communicate and be creative. It is these skills, seen in the project-based learning happening at many of our buildings, that will make them successful in whatever career they pursue after graduation.
“Project-Based Learning is 100 percent CTE,” Huffman said. “We want to build this type of learning all the way up to Boulder TEC.”
Big dreams for Boulder TEC
As Huffman works to revamp the Career and Technical Education efforts across the district, he also has a big vision for the Boulder TEC center itself. The new BVSD CTE director was recruited from Jeffco Schools and believes that Boulder can create a center that rivals Jeffco’s nationally renown Warren Tech, as well as the innovation centers being built by Cherry Creek and St. Vrain Valley school districts – because of the partnerships that are possible with companies and other organizations in Boulder Valley.
“We have people right next door who can be the mentors and have the internship and apprentice opportunities,” Huffman said.
He envisions a day when the center has capstone opportunities in every career field, especially those that offer the greatest opportunity for students as they graduate and enter the job force.
“Health care, IT and advanced manufacturing are the three big needs in our county, currently. That is a good place to start,” Huffman said.
He hasn’t been shy about asking for a new facility. He said it is important that the center reflect the industries that students are learning.
“When you walk in it needs to look and feel professional, like a place of business, Huffman said. “For healthcare, for instance, it should feel like a hospital or doctor’s office.”
Learn more about Boulder TEC on the center’s new website: bouldertec.org