There’s a Chinese proverb that advises that a person who says that something can’t be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it. In business and in education, we are routinely strangled by our reluctance to venture too far from what we know. In the name of tradition, we continue to embrace concepts that are ultimately detrimental to our individual or community growth.
It happens everywhere and it happens often. Which is why what took place on May 31st at the graduation ceremonies at Hollidaysburg Area High School was such a breath of fresh air.
Like most school districts, Hollidaysburg’s graduation event featured a standard agenda that culminated in the conferring of diplomas to its graduates. The early part of the agenda, as always, included speeches from the valedictorian and salutatorian of the senior class.
But Hollidaysburg, for the first time, included a third speaker. That speaker, Delaney Clemens, was the outstanding Hollidaysburg senior at the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center. Like valedictorian Rohan Gupta and salutatorian Alexandra Kaplan, Clemens’ speech was inspirational and well-delivered. Unlike theirs, however, she spoke of her academic struggles and attendance difficulties prior to signing-up for classes at the GACTC.
“I needed to find my passion,” Clemens admitted. “Once I did, things changed completely.”
One of the greatest injustices in the educational panorama of Blair County is the enduring stigma associated with career and technical education. The GACTC has borne the brunt of criticism that it’s little more than a haven for “throwaway students” who simply clog the educational machine.
Those who know the truth recognize that it’s futile to spend time or energy disputing value with people who have already made up their minds. Instead, the emphasis has been on creating opportunities for students who have willingly exited the academic mainstream in favor of career paths that align with their interests and talents. And yes, their passions.
If you think that’s only good for the GACTC students, think again. It is well-documented that Blair County’s economic future is heavily tied to its ability to meet the workforce needs of current businesses as well as ones that may choose to settle here. The projections are, to be honest, dismal. By 2025, it’s estimated that more than 7,000 jobs in Blair County will need to be filled. Many of those jobs will require the education and skills that are the hallmark of the GACTC.
As the GACTC continues the work of preparing students for future employment, there is the disconcerting reality that those of us in the workforce development arena have a lot of rabbits to pull out of a very small hat. How we deal with the perception that our local school districts are doing an exceptional job preparing our young people to leave raises the ante considerably. The clock is ticking.
Our hope is that more districts will follow Hollidaysburg’s lead and recognize the incredible impact that our county has already experienced from those who have chosen to make the GACTC part of their educational experience.
It’s a lot more than just a good idea.