Tara Cox, Cypress Ranch High School, Cypress, Texas
Thanks to Tara Cox, the architecture construction students at Cypress Ranch High School are given opportunities to explore their skills sets and creativity by working with industry leaders in their community. Cox goes above and beyond to prepare her students for their futures by offering her own knowledge of construction and business experience. She first came into the career and technical education field after a successful career as a project engineer for a commercial contractor. “I am a builder…There is no greater joy for me than to infect others with the same fascination for [this industry] that I have,” she said. After realizing the need for skilled workers in her industry, Cox decided to become an educator when several people acknowledged that she had a talent for instruction.
When asked how she motivates her students to be active learners in the classroom, Cox explained, “I aim to give them something to work for that’s personable…that can be personally important to them to be successful on.” Cox assigns class projects that are open-ended with the ability to be tailored to each student’s particular interests. She has seen that this concept motivates her students to be more invested in the follow through to the best of their abilities – often developing new skill sets on their own. Cox says that she is very proud of her students’ ability to work together to decide on not only a project but to make mistakes and learn how to fix them. “Their aptitude to learn from their mistakes is something afforded to them here that people who are learning out in the field do not have,” said Cox. She continues that her students are less fearful of making mistakes and in turn build problem solving skills rapidly.
Cox strives to build relationships between her students and industry leaders to give them a perspective of the real world. Her husband also works in the construction industry and provides feedback on class projects from an industry perspective, which gives the students an indication on where they may need to improve in their skills and what they are already successful in accomplishing before ever stepping into an official career. Cox and her students are also invited on to jobsites where they are given tours and instruction on how to operate equipment, tools and some of the more advanced technology of the trade. “We’ve had a superintendent of a construction company visit our class to speak about different jobs opportunities, what it means to be a manager, and the importance of safety.”
In the beginning of the school year, Cox provides her students with OSHA 10-Hour safety training to complement the safety training unit she requires before students are permitted to come into the skills lab. Entering the lab to practice skills sooner is a great incentive to complete the OSHA 10-Hour training for students but also helps Cox feel more confident in her students’ ability to protect themselves and know what to do in the event of an incident. “My own philosophy is that we work to live, not the other way around. Every employer needs to make it their priority to have a safe environment for their workers,” Cox said about setting her students up for success in and out of the classroom. She believes that every student needs to know the hazards of careers they are interested in and how to navigate them safely. Because of the dangers often associated with construction, safety is the most important part of her curriculum; Cox engrains in her students that nothing great they are able to build will matter if it costs someone a disabling injury or their life. Another purpose of the OSHA credential is a stepping stone to get her students thinking early on about what life is like on a job site. “I feel like my students are more mentally prepared to walk on a job site and learn a trade without being overwhelmed by all the safety expectations [because they already have some training],” explained Cox.
Many of her students compete in both skill and leadership based competitions at local and state SkillsUSA conferences. Cox believes that CTSOs like SkillsUSA give students the preparation to be successful in all aspects of their lives. Most of her students are among the youngest at the competition as underclassmen. Many of the students typically compete in wood making projects or build architecture models and designs – one project received best of show last year at the SkillsUSA national conference. One of the most exciting competitions for Cox and her students at the SkillsUSA Texas Leadership and Skills Conference is TeamWorks, a three day construction competition that requires an OSHA 10-Hour credential to participate. TeamWorks require Cox’s students to strategize, present an action plan, and build a project based on plans given the first day of competition. The students are judged based on their organization, proper use and responsibility of tools and equipment and oral presentation skills making this project a culmination of all they have learned in class.
This year, Cox and her students are currently building a house to take to Corpus Christi to compete in SkillsUSA Texas with the intention of selling the home after returning from competition. Businesses and industry leaders in their local community have donated funds and materials needed for the house as well as offered to return to the house to complete inspections and reviews of their work. With the money received from selling the home, Cox reveals that she would like to divide the proceeds among local schools in the district with CTE programs to build up their construction courses. Cox believes in the success of CTE and wants to give others the opportunity to develop and expand their construction programs that may not have funds for tools, personal protective equipment, or safety training.
Cox's contacts in industry, her dedication to CTSOs, and personal knowledge and business savvy personality help develop her students' technical and soft skills to shape them into successful and talented young people entering the workforce. Her devotion to the success of her students is inspiring for the advocacy of career and technical education.