Vocational Focus

In Baltimore’s new, service based economy, the only unskilled jobs to be had are low wage and decidedly undignified. Many of the current vocational training programs are very narrow, teaching only one isolated set of skills. This prepares students for dead end jobs with very little possibility of advancement, especially for teens who lack solid foundations in math, literacy, and problem solving.

However, research shows that when teens with low literacy abilities are interested in the material they are trying to read, they can read things that are more difficult than they would otherwise be able to, and that the process of reading more difficult texts increases their reading levels. This strategy is commonly known as Reading Apprenticeship. [1] Therefore, we will learn to read, research, and write using these demonstrably effective techniques: working together to learn about real ways we can work together to make our world better.

It is possible to learn a great deal about the world by researching one, relatively narrow idea or skill. Students will be able to learn far more about history, sociology, math, science, health, art and music by reading and writing extensively on, say, solar panel installation, than they would have by taking classes that did not spark their interest. It is also the case that being great at installing solar panels doesn’t amount to anything if no one hires you to do it, or if you can’t keep track of the money in order to pay yourself. Therefore, part of the study will center around advertising, record and book keeping, and customer service.

And, of course, people can’t go to work while they are supposed to be taking care of small children. We will provide a safe place for their children to learn and grow while they are in school, but they will continue to need childcare services once they have graduated. Also, they continue to be parents when they get home, and it will benefit their children if they, too, have a working understanding of the Montessori Method and other, more recent research on childrearing. Therefore, the teens will all learn care-taking skills to help them raise the infants in their charge.

At some point during the first year, students will be called upon to choose a track to delve deeper into: the technical, manual work; the office work of bookkeeping, marketing, and public relations; or the childcare work, receiving Maryland State certification as day care providers.. They will continue learning about all three, and growing their knowledge and understandings of how things fit together, but they will also tailor their studies to the specific track they have chosen.

All of the learning will be project based. Students will do original research, drawing from and adding to Wikipedia and other open sources, [2] as well as using traditional sources. They will learn to use the public libraries. They will learn to craft debate arguments, and to assert their ideas, and the ideas of others, aloud and in writing. In the tradition of holistic Learning, they will do hands-on work and real life practice. [3]

Importantly, students will not be forced to work when they don’t want to, but they will be responsible for getting their work done. To this end, formal classes will happen when we all agree that they should, but the center will be open from 8am until 8pm most days, so students can continue to research on their own time, at their own pace. There will always be a research assistant around. Sometimes this will be a teacher, sometimes a college student. Having exposure to many different people with different tactics and styles will help students develop their own style.

Another part of the program is that the students will overtly learn cooperative economics. [4] Because each cohort will be comprised of students who chose to focus on each of the three skill sets necessary to creating a sustainable construction business– the technical skills, the office work, and holistic child care. In this way, each cohort of students will graduate ready to become a fully functioning cooperative business, complete with skilled technicians, office workers and marketers, and care for their children. The second year of the program will see the students spending some of their time doing this work, and the rest continuing their research and learning to fine tune the operation and expand their knowledge.

Cooperative businesses based in Baltimore and comprised entirely of formerly “at risk youth” will benefit the city and the local economy. It will be a way that homeowners can make their homes more environmentally sustainable while supporting a positive local business, and will provide a model for other local entrepreneurs who might have assumed they needed to organize vertically.

Graduates of the program will not be required to be involved in such a business. As an eleventh grade English teacher, I have had a lot of experience with college admissions officers and I am confident that students graduating from this program would be very attractive to colleges, and well-equipped to succeed in college.

1.Institute of Education Sciences. (July 2010). What Works Clearinghouse: Reading Apprenticeship. Retrieved on January 18, 2013 at http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/interventionreport.aspx?sid=414
2.Obar, J. (September 20, 2012) Why Wikipedia Does Belong in the Classroom [Web Log]. REtrieved from http://readwrite.com/2012/09/20/why-wikipedia-does-belong-in-the-classroom
3.Holistic Education, Inc. (2003). Holistic Education: An Introduction [Web Site]. Retrieved on January 12, 2013 at http://www.holistic-education.net/visitors.htm via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holistic_education.
4.International Co-Operative Alliance. (2011) Co-Opertaive Facts and Figures [Web Site]. Retrieved on November 13, 2012 fromhttp://2012.coop/en/whats-co-op/co-operative-facts-figures.

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