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Tyler Ames wants to better understand how parental involvement can increase student success in school by focusing his work on a burgeoning area—career and technical programs (CTE)—as a School of Education doctoral student.

CTE programs have been growing in popularity in recent years because they offer students real-world experiences through internships and job shadowing. Many of these positions are in high-demand occupations, such as hospitality and tourism, health care, information technology, manufacturing and human services. These programs provide employment alternatives and skills for students uninterested in college.

With more emphasis on preparing high school students to be college- and career-ready, CTE is getting increased federal attention. The Institute for Education Services, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, has directed more federal dollars to CTE.

Ames’ personal experience shaped this passion for his doctoral studies. He took woodworking in high school and had considered a career as a shop instructor. “I used these skills to build several pieces of furniture in my house, with a wide variety of woods—cherry, walnut, maple and mahogany,” he said. “The experience developed my interest in working with career-minded students interested in learning new skills, adding to their technical knowledge and getting real-world experience.”

This led him to pursue a master’s degree in technology and engineering education from Utah State University, and spend a year as a middle school instructor teaching introductory career and technical education courses.

“There have been studies on the role of families in science, math and reading, but none on CTE programs,” said Ames. “These programs serve high school students most at risk of dropping out.”

Research shows that children display a more positive attitude, do better academically and have higher graduation rates when families take an interest in their learning. “I want to look at ways family engagement exists or can exist in CTE, and how we can improve it,” he said.

Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) last December requires at least 1 percent of Title I funds be used for parent and community participation activities, and authorizes federal grants for Statewide Family Engagement Centers. Additionally, ESSA shifts more responsibility to the states where parents will have greater say in policy matters.

The National PTA commended Congress for providing greater flexibility to states and districts to meet the needs of all students and acknowledging the essential role of family engagement to student achievement and meaningful school improvement.

Ames said he couldn’t be in a better place to purse his research interest. “I’m working with Joyce Epstein, a nationally recognized leader on family engagement is schools.”

Epstein is director of the Center for School, Family and Community Partnerships, and the director of the National Network of Partnerships Schools (NNPS). She has conducted many years of research on how the quality of school programs affect family involvement and student success.

Developing a strategy on engagement is complicated because CTE programs come in different shapes and sizes. In some states, almost every high school has a program, some states have regional centers where students are bused in, and some have specialized schools.

Ames is working with Epstein and other researchers on a longitudinal study with Seattle public schools on how family engagement contributes to a student’s success in the transition from middle to high school. His doctoral work has taken him to the International Network Roundtable on research on school, family and community partnerships last April and to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

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