August is National Back to School Month, and in honor of that, Build California wants to shine a light on the fantastic work that Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers do for students and their impact on their communities.
CTE programs are designed to teach students skills-based learning they can take with them for the rest of their lives. They give students who prefer and excel in hands-on learning skills that can help them get on the path to a good-paying career.
Build California recently caught up with Jeff Merker, a CTE teacher and program leader for Sheldon High School’s Engineering and Building Trades Academy. They talked about the importance of CTE programs and how initiatives like Build California, and its partnership with construction companies through our Ambassador program, can play a role in supporting these courses. Merker has been a CTE teacher for 32 years, and while retirement might be on the horizon, his enthusiasm and commitment remain the same as when he began his career. Sheldon’s academy offers students an in-depth understanding of skilled trades and engineering disciplines, as well as developing skills in fine-finish work, electrical, structural, surveying, and residential and commercial construction engineering. Students who complete the academy are well on their way toward a career in the construction industry in fields such as construction management, skilled trades, engineering, architecture, and more.
We asked Merker for his thoughts on the importance of CTE programs, and he said, “Every job [the students] get, they will use skills that they gained in a CTE program. That doesn’t have to be a building program – that could be business courses or health, but our society needs more hands-on training that gives people transferable skills.” For Merker, hearing “you’re the only reason I come to school” from students is enough to keep him teaching for a few more years and inspiring every student who walks into his shop.
When talking to Merker, Build California asked him to elaborate on his favorite part about working with students. He responded, “Watching my passion become their passion, watching their confidence grow, and their teamwork, especially after distance learning.”
In December, his school workshop caught fire unexpectedly. The whole building had to be gutted, and tools and machines salvaged. Inside his desk, he found a box that had survived the fire, containing over 30 years’ worth of thank you cards from students and parents. Most of the sentiments were the same, “You encouraged me, you never gave up on me, you never gave up on the bad kids,” to which he said, “there are no bad kids!” Merker is an inspiration to his students, you can hear the passion in his voice and the satisfaction when a student figures out the solution to a problem.
Build California started working with Sheldon High School and Merker in the summer of 2021. The workforce development initiative has presented to a few of his classes and attended a job fair open to the whole school, so students who couldn’t hear the presentation were still exposed to the Build California message. They asked Merker how initiatives such as Build California can support programs like his, and he summed it up in one word: exposure. He also said that the educator kits Build California provided him with were a great help, and he always keeps the paper materials up at the front of his class for any interested students.
There are many benefits to going through a CTE program, and for Build California K-12 Outreach Coordinator Katie Dunn who was previously a program participant during her high school years, the impact that educators like Merker have on the students is palpable. Build California is always looking for more schools to get involved with to provide in-class presentations and participate in career fairs. If you work at a school or know someone who works at a school and would be interested in hearing more about Build California, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured: Jeff Merker, CTE teacher and program leader for Sheldon High School’s Engineering and Building Trades Academy.