If you’ve ever found traditional high school boring—sitting in a crowded classroom with dozens of other students, copying grammar rules from the board or memorizing the results that might have occurred if you had actually done a science experiment—then you’ll probably be jealous of the students at Camden County High School.
CCHS, located on the southernmost coast of Georgia, is a “career technical” school, which means it teaches vocational skills in addition to math and English. After freshmen year, each student enrolls in an “academy” to learn the technical aspects of a particular job. The academies are similar to the houses at Hogwarts—though membership is not based on a magical sorting but instead on a student’s interest in one of five realms: Government and Public Service; Engineering and Industrial Technology; Health and Environmental Sciences; Business and Marketing; and Fine Arts. The sixth academy (the Hufflepuff, if you will) is for freshmen.
While we often read dire reports about education in the U.S., Atlantic reporter James Fallows suggests that vocational schools might be one answer to our woes. Career technical schools prepare students for jobs that are less likely to be out-sourced, and those jobs pay more than retail or low-end service work, Fallows writes.
The school day at CCHS is lively. In Engineering and Industrial Technology Academy, the students run an auto-repair shop, where they fix local cars. In Government and Public Service Academy, students investigate mock robberies, gathering evidence, filing reports, and preparing trials for fake court. In Health and Environmental Sciences Academy, students bend over dummies in hospital gowns, practicing how to care for nursing home patients.
Rachel Baldwin, the CCHS Career Instructional specialist, says that recent studies have shown that “something like ‘grit’” is the most important quality for schools to teach.
“I think you are more likely to learn grit in one of these technical classes,” she told The Atlantic. “The plumber who has grit may turn out to be more entrepreneurial and successful than someone with an advanced degree. Our goal has been getting students a skill and a credential that puts them above just the entry-level job, including if they’re using that to pay for college.”
For students who want to learn by doing, and for parents who want to see their children graduate with real skills, career technical schools may just be the places to go.