It’s time to revisit vocational training for students who struggle with college preparatory courses or students who prefer hands-on career options over office work. For some reason, a stigma has grown around vocational education which is both unwarranted and a disservice to students who have learning styles better suited for hands-on technical career paths.
Colby Sanders was lost at his high school. “I feel like I’m going just to be there. I’m not really learning much,” said the 16-year-old. “I’m just falling more and more behind.”
With 30 or more students in a classroom, teachers and administrators don’t seem to notice, said his mother, Lori Sanders. Her son took a medical leave from Layton High last year after an as-yet-undiagnosed condition prevented him from keeping traditional school hours.
“It’s just frustrating,” she said. “I hope he can catch up.”
Next year, Colby Sanders plans to switch to Career Path High, a new charter school authorized by the Davis Applied Technology College in Kaysville. It’s the second charter to be authorized by a higher education institution in the state, and it has 125 students planning to attend after its Sept. 4 opening.
Those students will be able to earn a professional certificate in fields from cosmetology to diesel mechanics before high school graduation. Their regular high school classes will be online, while the technical school classes will be taken at the college, where they will join adult students.
“No one says, ‘I really want my kid to grow up to be a diesel technician,’ ” said Kevin Cummings, director of student services at Davis Applied Technology College. “But there are kids who graduate from high school with a diesel certificate and they’re making $15 to $20 an hour.”
Leaders say Career Path High’s blended online and in-person model is unique for a technical school, created after the state Legislature allowed colleges and universities to authorize charter schools in 2010.
Will the new concept work? The research is somewhat mixed. A report released in June found, on average, charter school students in Utah learn less than their traditional peers.
But a separate study by the American Institutes for Research determined students at early college high schools from underrepresented groups are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college and earn a degree. The report looked at about 2,500 students, comparing a control group with those who took college courses while in high school as part of an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.