Vo-Tech That Just Might Work
In the 1990s, many school systems that were still funneling kids into outdated vocational courses finally realized the folly of their ways and dismantled programs in home economics, printing and shoe repair. Unfortunately, those classes were often replaced with . . . nothing. The idea was to get everyone ready for college.
But not everyone can or wants to go to college. And many careers that don't require a college degree provide rewarding work -- and pay more than some professions.
So, finally, the pendulum is swinging back. Look inside this remarkable school:
Here's a classroom full of kids creating their own video games on state-of-the-art technology, including what administrators say is the first motion capture system in any high school on the East Coast. The teacher, fresh out of Yale, is leading the kids through a college-level computer animation program. The class is part of a three-year sequence in game development that has attracted a couple of hundred students, including, impressively, 120 girls. The school has been chosen to build an interactive educational disaster game on pandemics for the American Red Cross.
Down the hall, a class of kids, each at a professional video editing terminal, put together the school's video yearbook as part of a TV production course.
And here's a Biotech I class using micropipettes in an exercise in separating proteins -- the kind of work lab assistants do up and down the I-270 corridor.
Many of these kids will not go to college. But thanks to this school, they will be qualified for good jobs right here in the Washington area. This is the new face of vo-tech, now renamed career and technical education. And believe it or not, this is a D.C. public school.
"Unless these kids are trained in the industries where the jobs are in this region, the exodus of D.C.'s historic population will continue," says Daniel Gohl, principal of McKinley Tech, the two-year-old high school on the hill overlooking the burgeoning employment center at Florida and New York avenues NW.
Gohl came to Washington four years ago to rebuild McKinley, a classic old building that had been empty for many years. From the start, he insisted that McKinley produce workers for the region's growth industries, which tend to import skilled workers -- most of them white -- rather than hire local black kids. So the school focuses on training students to work at the biotech companies up I-270, at broadcast operations such as XM Satellite Radio down the block, and in the information technology businesses along the Dulles corridor.
To make this happen, McKinley is stocked with professional-level equipment for each trade it teaches. Its graduates can walk into any job and say they've already worked on the industry's standard tools.
"This diploma has not until now represented a skill set in which employers could have faith," Gohl says. But McKinley now trains its students to pass industry-certified accreditation tests. "If we can provide good workers who already live here, we can help stabilize the city's population even with the gentrification we're seeing."
While McKinley is the showcase of the new career education, the D.C. system is starting to push the same ideas at other schools. David Thompson, a dynamic young former math teacher who is developing career programs for the D.C. schools, is reshaping auto repair and TV production classes at places such as Ballou High in Southeast so that they become multi-year sequences leading to real jobs, rather than single-year introductions to a craft.