The Challenges of Vocational Education

Article excerpt

When U.S. District Court designated the Special School District as the sole provider of vocational education for the St. Louis area, the district began an ambitious program to meet this challenge. Dramatic improvements have occurred. Much more needs to be done, but the current positive directions need to be continued.

Present programs represent a substantial and solid base upon which to build the comprehensive program envisioned by the document filed with the court by the Metropolitan Coordinating Council and the Special School District. With the removal of obstacles such as requiring St. Louis students to travel far to the county for desegregation purposes - a condition that will limit the success of any provider, just as it has the Special District - the visionary results hoped for may be realized.

The Special School District has built a solid foundation by expanding vocational programs, establishing satellite sites for student training in business and industry in the city and county and embarking upon an aggressive recruiting campaign. The district now provides 40 vocational programs for area high school students.

New programs include allied health technology (dental technician, medical assistants, physicians office assistants), environmental technology, business technology, hospitality, public safety and animal caretaking. These programs were developed to demonstrate that vocational education embodies not only traditional programs such as carpentry, plumbing and automotive technology, but also provides training for jobs where there is increasing demand.

In keeping with national trends and based on the European concept of on-site learning and cooperation between education and business, the district has established satellite sites at locations such as the Missouri Botanical Garden, Six Flags Over Mid America, Dobbs Tire Centers, the National Archives and Records Administration, the St. Louis Construction Trades and Lambert Field. As witness to the success of these satellite sites, three students trained at Dobbs Tire are currently full-time employees at Dobbs. In fact, one recently received the Dobbs Tire employee-of-the-month award.

The district is criticized for the high cost of providing vocational education compared to similar districts. Other vocational institutions in the state, however, provide only half-day programs for high school students. Because the Special District provides both full-day and half-day instruction for students, its costs per student are higher, as are other costs in a metropolitan area, as compared to rural programs. …