I had my quarterly Puget Sound Skills Center board meeting this morning. I am on the board as are the superintendents of the other three participating school districts Highline, Federal Way, and Tukwila. The skills center provides a program for juniors and seniors in a number of program areas that can be seen in this six minute marketing video.
One of the items on the agenda was projected enrollment for next year and thus far we have one student enrolled. There are a number of valid reasons for this low enrollment, but it does concern me because there are a number of programs at the center that we do not offer and that lead to family wage jobs following certification. It is unfortunate that more of our young people are not taking advantage of this opportunity.
My intention in this post is not to focus on enrollment or the merits of the skills center, but sitting there this morning once again brought the four- year college mental model front and center for me. For many of us, the only path to success in post high school learning and work is through a four-year college. I agree that success will require post high school learning, but there are other viable options for this learning including community college, online, trade school, apprenticeship programs, and individual learning plans. We must find ways to shift the current mental model to provide multiple options for families and students to consider as they make choices in K-12 and beyond.
Rob Morrow, Junior High Principal shared this article with me of Mike Rowe’s (“Dirty Jobs”) testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee on the work force and the skill gap.
In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch, that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.
I want to also share a post from high school teacher Crystal Hess on maybecrystal where she identifies the same Rowe article and also her personal experience when she shared with her parents that she wanted to be a teacher not a software developer. Crystal identifies the mental model issue in her post and how the “vocational” label can be misleading.
When I started teaching at Tahoma, I didn't really 'get' CTE courses. I went from teaching the top 10% at my old school, to teaching students who struggled to make D's. My perspective of what students do after graduating from high school changed quickly. The students in my class had passion. Sure they might not all make straight A's, but that didn't mean they weren't highly capable. It didn't mean that they weren't going to be successful. It didn't mean that they weren't going to be happy. It just meant their future might be a little different than mine turned out.
I’ll close this post with a personal experience. In the last month I have had the opportunity to get to know two high school seniors who have made the decision to go to Green River Community College. Both of these students are on the We the People team. They are bright, articulate, committed to their education and could have chosen to go to a four-year school. They decided not to because they don’t have a definite focus on what to do with the rest of their lives, they wanted to work and make a little money, get an AA degree and then transfer to a four-year school. Sounds like a viable and well thought out plan to me. On two separate occasions, however, where their college choice was announced, adults near me were surprised and concerned with this choice. That is the mental model that we must change if our goal is to support all young people in making choices and creating options that meet their goals in life and not the mental model that many of us continue to have that real success is only possible through a four-year school.