When my grandfather graduated from Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, he graduated with an Education degree and a vocational education in carpentry.
When he was going to college, black institutions required an additional vocational skill when receiving a diploma. They did this to insure that when blacks got out of college, they would be able to receive a job.
My grandfather, for example, if unable to teach at a black school (because black schools filled up with black teachers fairly quickly), he could get a job building houses.
I say all of this to reflect upon the mission of Wake County in regard to education.
My grandfather weighed his vocational education and Education degree with the same importance because both were useful.
Wake County has an unfortunate need to force everyone into a college-prep mold, when not everyone is destined for college.
Wake’s graduation rate isn’t 61.8% because students aspire to be high school drop outs, or because they are bussed (that one is a personal favorite).
Wake’s graduation rate is so low because students are expected not to necessarily learn the same way, but to come across the same finish line—into a four-year college or university.
In Guilford County, parents and students are able to choose from a variety of schooling options and Guilford County’s drop out rate is also the lowest in the state at 2.99%.
Unlike Wake County, it teaches students and the surrounding community that all kinds of work are important, not just the occupations that one receives a degree for.
In Guilford County, some schools are focused more on math and science and some are geared more towards humanities. Other options include automotive schooling, heating and cooling trade schools, and internship-based schools where students go to work for half of their day.
For example, the Philip J Weaver Center, a vocational school school in Guilford, teaches fundamental skills students can use in their chosen field, the most popular being the auto-mechanics program. The graduation rate there is 96%, whereas Leesville has an 84% graduation rate.
The folks in Guilford County know that the job market doesn’t really care about people with Education degrees over people without a degree. In fact, many mechanics make more than the average school teacher and can more easily get a job out of vocational training.
The great thing about Guilford County is that it teaches students as well as the community surrounding the schools that all kinds of work are important by having different pathways.
As leaders of the future, we need to be thankful for other vocations and know that there are other options. We need to be thankful for the workers without degrees and learn to value and respect them for what they do.
Forcing kids into college is a losing battle and Wake County needs to quit using other issues like the busing as scapegoats for the graduation rate. Instead, Wake should follow the example Guilford County has set by refocusing the standard of what constitutes as a successful education by creating a direct pathway from school to the workforce.