SALEM, N.H. — Siobhan McKee, a sophomore at Salem High, cringes every time she watches a cooking show and sees a television chef holding a knife wrong, she explained as she was whipping some ingredients together in the school’s kitchen classroom.

Siobhan won’t be continuing the culinary program next year, but she learned some skills — like chopping and making bread — in her first year as a culinary student that she will take with her into the real world.

“Because everyone has to cook for themselves at some point,” she said. “It’s better to do this now, then go to cooking college and realize I’m not into this.”

Siobhan is one of the 528 students enrolled in the school’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. The program is comprised of 14 programs for students, ranging from cosmetology to marketing to biomedical science. The curriculum offers a hands-on approach to learning about potential career options, alongside college credits or professional certifications. The program continues to increase in enrollment, attracting students from the region. 

The popularity — and value — of these programs is reflected in data from a recent school survey showing alumni are thriving in their post-high school careers.

Often students enrolled in the programs can change their minds and try something else, and it’s cheaper to do that in high school rather than college, said Chris Dodge, director of Salem’s CTE program.

“Even if you discover you don’t really like something, I tell kids that’s a success story,” Dodge said. “We’ve been a strong center, and this is a good measure of success beyond the medals.”

The medals he is referring to are the awards students earned in a variety of CTE competitions. For example, students in the media and television program won awards from the Magnify Voices youth film festival this year.

Dodge explained he is excited by the data the school received from a survey conducted last summer. With about 50% of the class of 2012’s CTE students responding, the survey showed 66% of students enrolled in a CTE program went onto get a secondary degree, 36.6% of those graduates make over $50,000 a year, and 43.7% make between $25,000 to $50,000.

“Graduates are making decent, livable wages,” Dodge said. He is also happy that the survey showed 88.3% of students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that they were “highly satisfied with the quality” of their chosen program. Another 76% agreed or strongly agreed that their “CTE training has been beneficial” to their career.

Those high satisfaction levels reflect students who may or may not have pursued careers in the areas they choose as high schoolers. The survey said 49.3% of respondents are working in a field “related to my CTE program.”

He had always seen the immediate satisfaction in students who said CTE programs are often student’s favorite classes of the day.

Juniors Alex Daigle and Milie Suarez agreed. They are both in their first year in engineering program, and the hands-on building is one of their favorite parts of the day.

“It’s a great way to play around with things and get great ideas,” Milie said. “Anyone can have fun.”

Alex agreed, while building a robot, he said it was better than building a presentation.

The survey was the first of its kind for the high school, Dodge said. They had tried to collect similar data previously, but did not have enough responses to release the information. The school chose to ask these questions to alumni the summer six years after their high school graduation, because it was a time when the young professionals would presumably be getting settled into their post-graduate careers, Dodge explained.

Currently that same survey is being given to the class of 2013’s CTE students. Dodge hopes that two years of data will provide better insight into what the program can work better to do, he said. One area of improvement he saw was that students need to be learning the people skills — like communication and timeliness — and he is working on ways to teach, reinforce, and assess what students are working in those areas, he said.