Log in Newsletter


‘I think it’s really helpful’: How Cumberland County schools are prepping students for the workforce


As more than a thousand students and employers gathered Friday for Cumberland County Schools’ annual career fair, Chip Lucas and Taneka Williams had more than one reason to smile. 

Lucas, the executive director of the school system’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, and Williams, the coordinator for CTE, weren’t just celebrating the fair — they were also celebrating their department’s recent achievements. 

“We are the public school unit with the second-highest number of career-ready credentials earned by any county in the state of North Carolina,” Lucas told CityView, noting that Cumberland County students earned over 16,000 career-ready credentials during the 2022-23 school year. “We’re just really proud of that and hoping to make sure that we help students learn about those opportunities moving forward.”

The fair, held at the Charlie Rose Agri-Expo Center at 1960 Coliseum Drive, offered dozens of booths from potential employers and CTE programs available to Cumberland County students, showcasing futures in careers ranging from hosting country radio shows to designing video games.

According to Lucas, CTE programs offer middle and high school students opportunities to start a pathway to certain careers and earn certifications in the industry (or industries) of their choice. The Cumberland County Schools 2023-24 high school course selection guide lists 46 different certifications and 38 career pathways that students can explore through CTE programs.

“We’re ahead of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Union County for students who have earned credentials that they take with them to demonstrate that they are career-ready,” Williams said. “Over 95% of our students that have a career and technical education concentration have positive post-secondary placement, meaning they are productively involved in society beyond high school.”  

Lucas said 10,586 middle school students and 10,574 high school students participate in the school system’s CTE offerings. 

“They can explore and take more than one class in a year, or they could be taking a focus area in a pathway through a foundational course … and then maybe taking a concentrated course in a particular pathway,” Lucas said. “We do encourage students to explore and to declare a concentration because … students are more likely to graduate when they have had a focused concentration for an area.” 

‘We’re never really bored’

Aliyah Lucci, a 17-year-old junior at Jack Britt High School, said Friday that her time in the school system’s Fire Academy, hosted at E.E. Smith High School, has been a huge benefit. 

“We do a lot of hands-on things … We use chainsaws, axes, all that to break through walls,” she said, laughing. “It’s fun because we’re always doing something. We’re never really bored.”

After their second class of the day, participants in the Fire Academy either drive or take a bus to Fayetteville Technical Community College, then take a bus to E.E. Smith. The class runs from 1 to 2:30 p.m. each day, Lucci said. Students can either drive home after or take a bus back to their home school, where they will get on their regular bus back home.

Lucci said she applied to the three-semester Fire Academy as a freshman after hearing about it from her counselor and started her classes in the second semester of her sophomore year. She aspires to become a police officer or sheriff’s deputy investigating sex crimes, she said, though she plans to temporarily work as a firefighter beforehand. 

By the time Lucci finishes the program at the end of this semester, she’ll have earned a bevy of certifications, including certifications in CPR and the National Incident Management System, she said. 

“As much as I’ve learned a lot about the fire service and everything, I feel like, as a young teenage girl, I also have learned a lot mentally,” she said. “I definitely matured, being in the class. I think it’s really helpful.” 

Lucci said she has also formed a tight bond with the roughly 20 other students in her academy. 

“It’s kind of like we’re all siblings,” she said. “We’re always laughing. I’ve made some of my absolute best friends that I literally wouldn’t be here without [and] don’t even know where I would be if I didn’t meet them … It just makes me wanna do better, too.” 

Trevon Coats, a 16-year-old junior at Pine Forest High School, said his participation in the Academy of Information Technology is preparing him for a career in IT. 

“I’ve done my A+ hardware [certification] and then, during the spring, I’ll be getting my A+ software [certification],” he said. 

Coats signed up for the program after seeing an academy booth at an open house event before his freshman year, he said. Participants are trained in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Excel Pro during their freshman year, then become certified in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photo Illustrator in sophomore year. Come junior year, students choose between focuses in programming or computer engineering, Coats said. He picked computer engineering.

“For your first semester, [you learn] about the hardware side of computer engineering … how to take apart a computer, how to put it together, how to detect if something’s wrong with a specific piece of hardware and what you can do to fix that,” Coats said. “Now, I’m currently in my second semester. I’m learning about software.” 

Coats said he hopes to become a head of cybersecurity for a company, taking inspiration from his uncle, who works as the head of cybersecurity for a chain of banks in Florida. 

“That’s my role model, so I kind of wanted to be like him,” he said, smiling. 

Similar to Lucci, Coats said he has developed meaningful friendships through his program. 

“One thing you gain is, no matter what, you will have a group of friends throughout all the years of high school,” he said. “I’ve been sticking with the same circle since freshman year. We’ve all been in the academy. It’s very fun. You have people to build with and mature with.” 

Coats said he pays a flat fee of no more than $15 at the start of each school year for his participation. All field trips, textbooks and certification test fees are covered by the school system, he said. 

“You don’t have to worry about paying for anything out of pocket,” he said.

Measuring success

Williams said the school system tracks the success of its programs with a variety of metrics, such as “proof of learning,” which refers to students’ performance on state assessments and projects, and the number of credentials students earn.

Feedback from employers also helps, she said. 

“Some of our employers are very happy with our students in the fact that they’re employing them,” Williams said. “We run a summer work program called ICON [Innovative Career Opportunities Now] … We’re up to at least having 70 placements right now and are trying to find more for this upcoming summer.”

Most importantly, Williams said, she wants families to know that Cumberland County’s CTE offerings will set their students up for success. 

“If you’re looking for that program for your student that really engages your student and prepares them for a future, Cumberland County Schools is the best show in town, and CTE is absolutely one of the best programs that we have to offer,” she said. 

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

To keep CityView Today going and to grow our impact even more, we're asking our committed readers to consider becoming a member.

Take one minute to join now. 

Cumberland County schools, CTE, jobs, firefighting, information technology