When West Ashley High School’s Sandy Pennekamp recently took a van-full of students to a “Hack Warz” competition at Trident Tech, half of the kids said they would never want to spend that much time in front of a computer again. Even if their lives depended on it.
The same went for students who job-shadowed at a local hospital. And that was just fine with Pennekamp, the head of the Career and Technology Education (CTE) program at the school.
“I tell them that’s OK; they’ve just narrowed down their career choices,” says Pennekamp, who prefers students define what appeals to them before they spend their parents’ money attending college. “The more we expose them to, the better.”
The CTE program currently services more than 40 percent of the WAHS student body — a more exact number is difficult to come by, as tracking all the field trips and presentations attended by students would be nearly impossible.
Junior Stephen Maddy is one student who can’t get enough of computer work. Last year, Maddy took advantage of the program and soon found he had a knack for de-bugging the school’s computers, laptops, and smartboards.
This summer, Maddy, 16, was hired on as summer intern for the school district, and has been tasked by Superintendent Nancy McGinley to put together a special website for the district.
Pennekamp says the district appears ready to offer Maddy a full-time job after he graduates in a year, but he has his sites set on a computer science degree.
And why not, with five years of experience in programming, and the appropriate certifications in .Net and Java, and a facility with handheld operating systems like IOS, Maddy could be looking at earning more than $100,000 or even $200,000 annually, according to a local IT headhunter.
The CTE program attracts and involves students through a three-prong approach, employing job shadowing, apprenticeships, and internships. Apprenticeships bring with them not only exposure, but also two-year paid positions, funded by local businesses.
Student apprentices attend college-level courses at Trident three days a week, as well as working at sponsoring companies. By the time they graduate, they could earn a journeyman certificate, money for college, and invaluable experience.
Currently four WAHS students have apprenticeships. The CTE runs programs in a host of career fields.

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