Brown: The skills gap: How do we get Vo
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Brown: The skills gap: How do we get Vo

Jan 20, 2024

Today is the birthday of two of my eight grandchildren.

We call the two-year-old “Science Guy” because, as his Mom says, “He does not play with toys, he likes ‘new,’ anything new.”

This means that he is one of those kids who is always exploring, testing how things work, taking things apart, and putting them back together.

He will draw using a crayon but he really likes peeling off the paper around the crayon.

Outside yard work? He could mow your lawn and landscape your garden.

And his favorite thing to do? Sit in a car and try all of the switches, buttons, clicks, and gadgets. He’ll be driving next year.

My “now” 14 year-old grandson got an old go-cart for a summer project last year, stripped it, examined its innards, figured out what it needed with his Dad and reconditioned it with a new paint job. It is the talk of the neighborhood.

This kid played with Lego bricks since he was 12 months-old, advancing through the Lego “cursus” to the point that he now designs his own specs and diagrams.

These kids are not alone. In fact, I would wager a day’s salary that most kids are like this – curious, free-wheeling, smart, clever, flexible thinkers, and gadget-driven.

So what happens in schools? Do we provide enough “hands on” opportunities in formal teaching and learning for all kids?

Do we slot kids too soon into a college prep track or solely academic course of studies? Do we look down our noses at the trades, and if so, why?

Ask yourself, is this a first-rate education? Does an unenthusiastic attitude among adults discourage kids from entering the trades?

Can we not do better than that?

And I speak of college as a realistic and relevant goal, as evidenced by my own children’s experiences in Lower Merion School District and their academic work after graduation at University of Delaware, Penn State University, Harvard, Columbia, and Saint Joe’s.

But, as is stated frequently, college is not for everybody.

That puts the onus on us to open wide opportunities in the certifiable trades and vocational curricula now available.

Let’s think about creative solutions to attract students, like dual-credit Latin class so the student studying Latin also earns credit for English, all done in one class period.

And the credible evidence that Latin students outdistance other students in understanding English grammar, syntax, vocabulary-building, and exegesis is persuasive.

Plus, a huge historic move has occurred in LMSD – since AY2022-23 offering Latin study to all fifth graders. We will no doubt see literacy on the upswing.

There is also a high school concept with my name on it titled STAC – Sciences, Trades, Arts, Classics, a rigorous approach for attracting more students into the Vocational-Technical curriculum.

STAC is a dual-credit look at coursework for high school students whereby they follow the current courses of study for math and the sciences, but earn English credit through Latin, and History credit interlaced with the Arts.

This very efficient adjustment in the LMSD high school program would still allow for a half-day at Harriton or Lower Merion, and a half-day at the Central Montgomery County Technical High School.

For many LMSD students, however, schlepping to the Central Montgomery County Technical High School at 821 Plymouth Road in Plymouth Meeting is not the answer.

Time spent on a bus is not necessarily optimal.

As things currently stand, that schlep also means that the tech school students cannot fit world languages and the arts into their schedules, half-day here, half-day there.

To education advocates of a well-rounded curriculum, the current LMSD system seems half-baked.

One answer to attract students is the implementation of STAC at the high school level.

Another solution which has been suggested by LMSD students is to convert Oakwell in Villanova into a campus offering STEAM — and horticulture in partnership with Natural Lands’ Stoneleigh.

LMSD families and Main Line neighbors put up a successful fight against the School Board’s attempt to sideline Stoneleigh as a preserved landscape, the former Haas family estate with a storied history.

Now, ironic in timing, is the multi-faceted civic urgency to do something creative and innovative for LMSD students at Oakwell.

The capacity to provide the study of carpentry, electrical, plumbing, masonry, paint applications, et alii at this marvelous verdant property comprising several unique structures and owned by us, the taxpayers of Lower Merion and Narberth, is simply exhilarating.

Wikipedia states, “A vocational-technical school, often called a vo-tech school, is a high school in the United States and Canada designed to bring vocational and technical training to its students.”

The various certification programs possible can also round out a college-prep curriculum so today’s little guy who likes gadgets can also someday study auto mechanics and read Vergil’s “Aeneid.”

Mary Brown, a steering committee member of the Coalition for Youth of Lower Merion and Narberth and President of the Teen Learning Community incubator, teaches Latin at Saint Joseph’s University.

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