In a room cluttered with bricks, mortar and assorted masonry structures, 17-year-old Sandro Piazza awaits the start of the day's lesson. He is in a vocational classroom at Crossland High School where a trowel and a wheelbarrow filled with wet cement accompany pencils and textbooks.
Piazza is a graduate of the masonry program at Prince George's County's Crossland High School, which along with Bladensburg, Gwynn Park, Laurel and Suitland high schools, is equipped with vocational facilities. In addition to standard high school diplomas, these programs provide graduates with vocational skills for post-graduate employment.
Sixteen hundred county students participate in 22 vocational programs. The programs, averaging two years in length, include three hours of academics in the morning and three hours of vocational training in the afternoon.
In a survey conducted by county officials, 63 percent of those vocational graduates surveyed said they found employment after graduation at starting salaries ranging from $4.50 to $8 an hour.
With college costs continuing to soar, high school administrators are extolling the virtues of vocational training.
"These students are taking electives that will help toward their standard high school diploma while simultaneously getting a sophisticated education in a viable profession," said Dorothy Eaton, vice principal in charge of vocational education at Laurel High School. "And I applaud their motives."
For example, In auto-mechanics, students learn how to do everything from a simple tune-up to engine rebuilding in a multi-car garage complete with hydrolic lifts.
Students also get the opportunity to serve customers. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the cosmetology labs in county vocational centers open their doors to consumers. Similarly, maintenance requests from county residents provide the bulk of education for students in auto mechanics.
This school experience is attractive to area businesses, according to school officials. Vocational placement officer Naif Mahan says he "can't begin to meet the demand" of employment opportunities from area firms such as Precision Lenscrafters and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. "Everybody who came to us for a job last year was placed," he said.
Ronald Moore, a former student who now hires vocational graduates for a local company, agrees. "It's very competitive out there for grads -- I know because we've lost out to other companies in the hiring game," he said. "We run advertisements and have representatives recruiting across the U.S. and it's still difficult to find good apprentices. The vocational departments are just ideal programs to draw from."
A 1974 graduate of Bladensburg High School's carpentry program, Moore started as an apprentice carpenter and is now vice president of operations at Pittcon Industries, a local manufacturer of architectural products.
Administrators stress that even if students don't want to commit to a career in their area of vocational training, the skills learned in the programs can be valuable in pursuing other goals.
"He who has gained specialized training can now hire himself out at a higher rate than he might get at flipping burgers while in college," said Benny Liberatore, vice principal in charge of vocational education at Bladensburg.
Twenty-five percent of the senior vocational enrollment continue their academic education full or part-time after graduation, according to school officials.
For Piazza, though, brick-laying is a profession he's always planned to pursue. He won first place this year in the 1987 Maryland Skills Olympics' masonry competition sponsored by Vocational Industrial Clubs of America and he is representing Maryland in the national competition in Wichita, Kansas. When he returns from the contest next week, he will apply his accomplished skills to a masonry job in the family business.
CAPTION:Crossland vocational graduate Sandro Piazza lays bricks with his father, Tony Piazza. Sandro now works in family masonry business.