By Sara Cummings
At some point all high school students ask themselves or a teacher, “When am I going to use this in life?”
“I feel like math or English teachers use to try to convince students with, ‘You will need this for college’ or ‘This will be useful to you later in life’ , it was never very convincing,” said Junior Cordelia Boles. “When a vocational teacher said that I would actually believe them.”
Value and Impact
When high schools offer classes such as welding, woodshop, or culinary, it can spark a hidden interest a student didn’t know they had.
My dad, Andy Cummings, said he took auto shop in high school but he didn’t have the desire to become a mechanic. Life took a turn and he became an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force. Then he became a commercial diver for 18 years.
“In any voc class they give anybody that has a drive, a basis, and knowledge of what needs to be done, and then it’s up to them to take it to the next level. In vocational school, you learn by making mistakes,” said Cummings. “I think that happens to a lot of high school students, they take a class because it’s an elective and then they end up making a career out of it.”
Boles is an example of a new spark of interest. She said that after high school she planned on becoming a nurse but the Med-Terms class was unavailable to her. She instead took Mr. Mclennans carwise course and discovered a new passion.
“I want to dive more into auto shop and learn how cars and mechanics work because I realized you can make a living off of it,” Boles said. “I left that class every day with more useful information I can use in life and a career.”
Knowing how to “adult” opens up new opportunities for learning new things. Students these days have more roles to fill. It is no longer the norm to graduate, go to college, get a job, stay there for 40 years, get married, have kids, and retire. Now students are likely to be single longer, move through multiple jobs, share more of the household roles with a partner all while paying off student loans for all of eternity, said Kayhi culinary teacher Chef Cameo.
“Being able to cook for yourself is one of the most important skills to have,” said Chef Cameo. “Traditionally it has been seen as a woman’s skill in the home and a man’s skill in the workplace and that is thankfully changing rapidly.”
Boles said Kayhi should teach a class about taxes, loans, or how to build credit. Although that was what advisory was for thanks to Covid it wasn’t applied. She said it would be better if it was taught as a class.
“Kayhi doesn’t have a basic life skills class, but some of the CTE or voc classes here actually pertain to life and it can be a skill that they carry outside of high school which is important,” said Boles. “ I feel like there are just some classes that don’t provide purpose to real life and to what happens after high school.”
High school classes that aren’t part of the basic structure give students an insight into what career they want. Senior Judy Meirsonne said she didn’t know how engines worked so she took Mr. Mclennans small engines class.
“I want to go into the engineering field, so for those classes to be available is beneficial for my future,” said Meirsonne. “Knowing how a four-stroke engine or a two-stroke engine works is going to be helpful for my degree because I will have an actual working knowledge of how engines work.”
Assistant Principal Cole Maxwell said the Kayhi administration understands the importance of keeping vocational classes despite the budget.
“There have been cuts here and there yet our voc-tech has not only stayed, but it’s still expanding and getting better every year,” said Mr. Maxwell. “If we got enough space for three math classes and four Englishes, we can squeeze in a lifelong skill too.”
In an article for the New York Times, Motto Rich wrote, European countries like Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland, vocational programs have always been attainable.
“Yet in the United States, technical courses have often been viewed as the ugly stepchildren of education, backwaters for underachieving or difficult students,” said Motto Rich.
Both Mr. Mclennan and woodshop teacher Mr. Lindquist, said most kids come to school only for these classes. English and math are important but if voc classes got cut, fewer kids would show up to school.
“When vocational classes get cut, there is a huge void left and it’ll take a lot of the excitement out of school,” said Mr. Lindquist. “It’s usually the most helpful classes that get cut first, which also happens to be the classes students enjoy more.”
According to Education World, only about one-third of high schools in the US offer vocational classes. In 2012, funding for CTE dropped from $1,271.7 billion to $1,007.9 billion, putting many vocational schools in jeopardy.
“Students enrolled in vocational coursework ultimately earn more and are more likely to attend college within eight years than students not enrolled in CTE classes,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the Washington Times.
Looking at the vocational program now, there are courses that Mrs. Machado offers like entrepreneurship or Mr. Scarzella’s coding class, then culinary, maritime, construction, auto, and welding said Mr. Maxwell. Just students enjoying what they love or see themselves doing as a career is crucial that Kayhi has those.
“Especially if you are not college-bound but you are apprenticeship or some other, but not four-year college-bound, there is still a lot of value in what students can learn through high school to prepare them to do that,” said Mr. Maxwell. “Back then school prepared kids for college, and thinking ‘if you’re not going to college why are you here’. Well, we are because we want to be educated and because there is a lot to learn in those CTE/ fine arts educational wings.”
It’s not uncommon that students go to college not knowing what it is they want to do in life. According to Central EDU, about 75% of students go in not knowing what to do for a career or life. Mr. Lindquist said his whole generation is retiring in 5 years, opening new opportunities for careers in vocational trades.
“There is something rewarding knowing that a kid got some direction,” said Mr. Lindquist. “High school is not about knowing exactly what you want but what you like. Everyone changes their major in college and realizes what is what they like.”
Kayhi started expanding their CTE program a few years ago adding architecture, entrepreneurship, psychology, and guitar lessons. Chef Cameo said that these opportunities are important because high school is free.
“After high school you have to pay for everything,” said Chef Cameo. “We should be offering as much as we can to send you on your way prepared,”
Students need a creative outlet from the basic structure classes, meaning getting up, moving around, and exploring new motor skills.
Chef Cameo said she loves her class because it’s a little break from the daily grind and it’s a safe space for kids to be kooky or relax a little, get up out of their desks and talk.
“Having a class that pertains to life and learning, while also having fun will have a big impact on a student and I think that is most important,” said Chef Cameo.