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Trent VanLeuven, IEA Member and Idaho Teacher of the Year, Advocates for CTE

February 17, 2024

Idaho Teacher of the Year and Idaho Education Association member Trent VanLeuven earned high praise, even a standing ovation, from lawmakers for his presentations to the Idaho Legislature’s education committees last week.

An agriscience instructor at Mackey High School and a member of the Mackey Education Association, VanLeuven spoke to the committees about the need to build “talent pipelines” in Idaho schools as part of their career technical education programs.

VanLeuven was named the 2024 Idaho Teacher of the Year by the Idaho Department of Education last year and has spent much of his tenure drawing attention to the benefits and needs of CTE.

During his 20-minute presentation to the committees on Feb. 8, he told the committees that one of the most powerful things an educator can do is praise their work and talent and suggest to them how those strengths could be the foundation for a successful profession in their future.

“The vote of confidence displayed by teachers and mentors becomes entrenched in the minds of students,” VanLeuven told the committees. “It immediately places those students into considering a wide world of possibilities and a future for him or her. This career suggestion will be remembered far beyond any other lesson shared in the classroom.”

VanLeuven called for the state and school districts to consciously develop what he calls “talent pipelines” that connect students and educators with trades and opportunities valuable to local employers. Local businesses and industries, economic development officials, school districts, regional universities and other stakeholders should all be part of these pipelines.

“When businesses and industries have a stake in local students, students find themselves imagining themselves in these positions,” he said. “We need solid mentors and teachers to become talent scouts. These pipelines bear fruit when internships, scholarships and talent scouts from local schools to post-secondary, to industry all collaborate.”

He pointed to two different career paths as examples of how important this connection to the local job market is — forensic scientists and welders.

He said forensic science programs around the nation have had a boom in recent years thanks to the popularity of television shows like “CSI,” which glamorize the work of police forensics units and their members. As a result, more than 240 institutions offer programs in forensic science, but many of those programs have very low percentages of their graduates actually work in that field.

On the other hand, more than 3,700 Idahoans are employed as welders today and more than 1,000 more are expected to be needed in the next six years. Creating a “talent pipeline” that introduces students with a potential interest and aptitude for welding would ensure that demand is met.

VanLeuven said such a connection is particularly important in rural communities where local job market needs are often overlooked in the deluge of data about macroeconomic needs.

“These local careers, if not given some priority, can spell huge challenges for these communities, which are becoming frequently retirement villages as our youth join the historical exodus from our remote valleys in search of greener pastures,” VanLeuven said.

He pointed to his own experience in Mackey as an example. They have benefitted “from dozens of experts and volunteers” who have supplemented course offerings with their own experiences and donations. Recently, one volunteer donated his “vast experience as a welder and fabricator” to VanLeuven’s students along with some needed equipment.

“His hours volunteering and instructing students has made a very lasting impact on every one of those students,” VanLeuven said. “Great things happen when businesses and industry and people ask what they can do for their local schools.”

VanLeuven is excited about the potential of his concept.

“As a CTE instructor, I truly feel we are in a golden age of career technical education in Idaho. I hope we can build on this momentum,” he said. “I hope to see more mentors and teachers take on the role of talent scouts in our schools. I look forward to communities, businesses and schools having conversations to prepare students for the reality of tomorrow.”

Immediately upon the completion of his presentation, committee members in the House rose to applaud and many spoke in admiration for his success as an educator and his advocacy for his profession and CTE.

“Your modest presentation of who you are and what you do is incredible,” said Rep. Soñia Galaviz (D-Boise), a fellow educator and IEA member. “What you are doing matters so much for the profession and what you do for kids. Thank you very much.”

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