The World is your Oyster — Do you need a four-year degree to navigate it?

Career and Trade Education at Fauquier High School

The path to success is not linear. Some people map out their career path at a young age, while others don’t know their trajectory until college or beyond. And what about those who don’t want to — or can’t afford to — go the four-year college route? Fortunately, there are alternatives to getting a bachelor’s degree, such as opting for a two-year associate’s degree, applying for an apprenticeship or certification in a specialized trade, or an internship that leads to a career. Fauquier County Schools have created and implemented inclusive curricula that offer students education for many different careers and Fauquier High School (FHS) has talented staff and teachers who work with students to help them decide which path is best for them.

It used to be that to prepare for a career in a trade meant going to a specialized school. Now, Career and Trade Education (CTE) is offered within our public schools. These technical classes provide classroom lessons with hands-on skill development with many components, and some conclude with trade exams and certifications. Fauquier High School offers six CTE programs, many that prepare students to go directly into the trade they studied upon graduation. Qualified employees for some of these trades are in very high demand, and can offer excellent career opportunities right out of high school.  

Of course, going directly into the workforce is not the only option after a CTE program. “We’re trying to promote that while not everyone goes on to a trade as a nurse, electrician, or in the automotive field, for example, they can use the skills we teach here. They also have the option to go on to receive a two-year degree and have a great career,” said Mark Bjorkman, Guidance Director at Fauquier High School. Additionally, many of the CTE programs offer classes that can be taken as electives to learn applicable life skills. 

While all three high schools in the county offer specialty classes in graphic arts and agriculture, the bulk of trade education in the county is offered at Fauquier High School; currently this term, 81 students travel to FHS from these schools for CTE programs. Due to OSHA regulations and program popularity, not every program is accepting students. 

Building Trades  

The Building Trades Program covers trades in carpentry, masonry, plumbing, and electrical. The three-year program gives students an introduction to each trade. Beginning with the Introduction to Building Trades course, students learn the fundamentals of working with tools, measuring, project management, and finish work. “We try to cover everything so students get a better idea of the different trades out there,” said Building Trades teacher Jared Zangari. As students progress through the program, they learn more about each specific trade, and the final capstone project is to build a modular home from start to finish. The home is later auctioned to the community. 

Upon completion of the Building Trades program, students have the ability to go directly into a career in the field  and continue with hands-on experience, or further their education with a two- or four-year college program,

“The wave of the trades is increasing, and people are starting to realize the importance of these jobs,” Zangari added. Zangari is an example to students of the various job opportunities provided in trades; he came up through the education system, focused on Technical Education, pursued a career in the trade, and later came back to teach it to middle and high school students. 


Randy White has been teaching electrical classes at FHS for 24 years. Although electrical is covered at a high level within the Building Trades program, this three-year program is focused solely on electrical work and delves deeper into the specifics of wiring in both residential to commercial construction. He said that the industry is “screaming for these students” and the program has grown rapidly and significantly, to the point where a second teacher has been hired to support the volume of students. “I tell my students to take advantage of this free education and learn everything they can because — in addition to a career in electricity — one day, they’ll probably own a home and can do the work themselves,” he said. Many students have gone directly into apprenticeships or jobs with independent contractors, and, White said, “With these skills you can get a job almost anywhere.”

Auto Mechanics

The two-year Auto Mechanics program covers everything related to the inner workings of a car, from tools to electronics, transmissions, air conditioning, and other essential mechanical work. At the end of the program, the student Automotive Service Excellence certification test is given. FHS’s program prepares students to go directly into the field, however, many do go on to further their education. Teacher Scott Freeman explained that many college programs can cost upwards of $50,000 and feels our local community colleges offer comparable associate’s degree programs that provide ample opportunities for careers. Many of his students have gone on to pursue business degrees at four-year colleges to further their opportunities in the field of management. 

Auto Body

For students who have an interest in cars, but not what’s under the hood, FHS’s Auto Body program offers a three-year curriculum that covers the structural part of cars, from using appropriate tools and car parts to welding, painting, estimate repair, and everything in between. Students can begin the program as a freshman or sophomore and can earn their Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) certification — the industry standard for excellence in the auto collision repair industry — upon completion. These students are able to go directly into internships or get a job and receive on-the-job training. There are also higher education programs that follow, in trade schools or local community colleges. 

Not all students who take Auto Body classes go on to pursue a career in the trade. Many students take classes because they are interested in cars. And for those who do pursue a career, teacher Craig Canard tells his students to be prepared for a never-ending learning curve. “In auto body, you never stop learning. Every year there is a new gadget on cars and you need to know how to fix it if it breaks,” he explained.

Early Childhood Education

Teaching programs typically require a bachelor’s degree, but the Early Childhood Education program at FHS is an exposure program that provides a solid foundation for a career in education. Students not only learn in the classroom, but when they move from Introduction to Level 1, they work in the community-based on-campus preschool. This program is designed to teach future teachers, and Cheryl Budd, child development teacher, said, “The Early Childhood Education Lab is a unique experience for both the high school student and the preschoolers who attend. The high schoolers receive first hand real-world experience in the dynamics of teaching, and it is a great first school experience for preschoolers. It is a win-win for everyone.”

Students have the opportunity to further this education in Level 2 and work on setting goals and analyzing growth while continuing to work with the preschool children. Approximately 75 percent of the students who complete this program do go on to four-year colleges to obtain a teaching degree, but students are prepared to work in the preschool setting at the end of the program.

Nursing Aide Program

Similar to early childhood education, the Nursing Aide program provides several avenues for students who wish to pursue a career in health care. To become a Registered Nurse, higher education is required, but this program provides all the tools needed to go directly into a career as a nurse’s aide. Upon completion of the two-term program, students are eligible to sit for the Virginia Board of Nurse’s Aide certification exam. The popular program can only accommodate 20 students per term and, teacher Maryann Lamb explained, many students do go on to pursue a  Bachelor of Nursing degree.

Additionally, Fauquier offers classes for students in business, marketing, economics, and entrepreneurship which complement the trade courses and aid students in building a sustainable career without necessarily obtaining a college degree and its accompanying expense.

It is clear that as the workforce changes, our educational system is in lockstep, preparing our students not just for whatever their next step might be, but providing them with valuable life skills that can be applied throughout their lives.

Frannie Barnes
About Frannie Barnes 30 Articles
Frannie Barnes is a content writer and editor, and the owner of ForWord Communication. She lives in Gainesville with her husband, three active kids, cat, and dog. To contact Frannie, you can e-mail her at

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