CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Aaron Canon is only a high school junior, but already feels confident he'll be able to make a living when he graduates.
His goal: to become a licensed cosmetologist. It's been his dream, and it is his passion, he says. Bored with more traditional high school classes, Canon is motivated in his technical classes. He's interested and doing well. He's not alone.
Canon is one of a growing number of students pursing Career and Technical Education courses through Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.
"This is something I wanted to do for a long time, and it's just great that I get to do it in high school. It's just great," he said, as he sat in a cosmetology course that felt more like advanced science than hair styling.
Down the hall at North Mecklenburg High School is Natalie Cunningham. She is taking Introduction to Culinary Arts. Her parents support her.
"Because they know I have a passion for cooking. They want me to pursue my dream," she says.
Cunningham plans to go to college and is eyeing Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte.
North Mecklenburg Principal Matt Hayes says his school's CTE curriculum is paying off for students here. He says many will forgo college and finish their certification and join the workforce.
But others are using their technical skills to earn money while going to college. They're finishing their degrees without heavy debt.
Teacher Melissa Prickett says she sees all types of students in her Cosmetology classes.
Trickett believes the courses are gaining popularity because more students are realizing they don't want to go to a traditional college right away, and might not want to go to a four-year university at all.
"We really in need of people in the community to do hair, cook meals and be able to fix cars. We need these skills as a society," said Prickett.
But Hayes says the programs are in need of upgrades. He's hoping voter's will approve the November bond package that would provide up to $8.64 million for CTE improvements at his school and others.
The programs are expensive he says, because they require special facilities and technology upgrades that other courses do not. North Mecklenburg's Automotive Class has a fully equipped garage.
The Cosmetology room has a row of dryers, manicure stations and sinks. The Horticulture wing is equipped with a green room and the Culinary Art Kitchen looks like something from a professional cooking show.
Hayes says the equipment has to be updated and current to meet state criteria for each technical skill.
And both the principal and teachers say the better equipment motivates the students to do well.
In addition to North Mecklenburg, Garringer West Mecklenburg and Independence High Schools also offer Career and Technical Education.
To learn more go to the CMS website: www.cms.k12.