By Patrick Walsh, High School Principal
For the past one hundred years, a traditional high school student has pretty much been given the choice to take academic classes that “prepare” you for college education, or the chance to take vocational courses that prepare you for workforce or perhaps a 2-year degree. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 was passed to give students vocational courses for those who were not pursuing college degrees.
As factory life emerged for the American worker in the early 1900’s, an alternative to farm work became America’s new version of “high school”, a system that sorted learners into college or work preparation. One hundred years have passed, yet a stigma still exists that those hands-on learning opportunities are regarded as something lesser than traditional classroom courses. This has been a most unfortunate message for the American student. In fact, the type of student most disserviced by this approach are students that ultimately do not get any, or many, opportunities to expand their skill set in hands-on courses—the 4 year college student.
Hands-on learning has always been understood as an excellent means to teach someone to learn the deep connections to subject matter that produce long-term understanding. The ability to generalize learning to non-predictable situations is the hallmark of a well-educated individual. Unfortunately, most of this practical reasoning ability is done outside the confines of a formal education. Rather, most people rely on the deeply personal experience of being mentored by someone who has valuable skills…usually outside of the school environment.
High school classroom experiences are not highly predictive of future workplace success. Just being good at Mathematics is not necessarily good enough for the effective engineering student. Just being good at Science is not necessarily enough for the nursing student. Ultimately, there are major hands-on skills that need to be coupled with excellent classroom experiences to create the ultimate workforce readiness. This applies to occupations across the entire workforce spectrum. Ultimately, the ability to relate and collaborate with others, to solve problems, to think critically and to create in our economy have never been more valuable than today. In fact, these skills are nearly essential to the continued edge that the American economy has held for so long.
Over the past four years, Hutchinson High School has been working to build career “academies” that integrate career pathways into all curricular areas. We have been working on balancing this premise by offering hands-on opportunities for all students. This initiative is called TigerPath Academies (http://www.isd423.org/hs/tpa). I invite you to check out this website to learn about the multiple “cool” elements that these academies bring to our school and community!
As part of this, we screened eight years’ worth of recent graduates to find out where their post-high school experiences led them. We divided their occupations into four large, workplace sectors that include STREAM (manufacturing/technical); Sci HI (healthcare/science); Business and Human Services. Each of these sectors employs between 20% and 30% of the workforce, so these are pertinent to our students as any predictor could be.
It is important that we begin by offering choice to students at a much earlier age. Through choice, you also must elect. It is part of the development process that is essential for students to learn responsibility to themselves. By promoting this choice, we absolutely expect to increase the relevance of the high school experience for our students! Whereas you leave high school to “major” in a degree, or to pursue a vocation, TigerPath is more like picking up a “minor” to help you make that choice better.
We do this through multiple mechanisms. The icing on the cake is the connections we’ve developed by working with the Hutchinson community. The interactions with our community and workforce regarding TigerPath are much stronger than even seemed fathomable two years ago. We believe that TigerPath Academies will increase the effectiveness of our school, and beyond that, make our community and workforce more viable for the future!