Schools Face New Challenges
By Marylena Mantas
team of students from Samuel Gompers Vocational and Technical
High School in the South Bronx recently ventured down to Columbia
University to take part in the annual FIRST Robotics NY Competition,
which brought together more than 1,000 students from around the
city, country and the United Kingdom to build the best robot.
The team ranked 19th in this year’s competition, which was the
third time the school participated.
want my children to compete with everyone and everything,” said
Samuel Gompers’ Principal Marianne Hawthorne. “We are moving our
students to meet the challenges of new standards and we are achieving.”
The robotics competition came at a time when several principals
of the city’s 14 vocational-technical high schools are voicing
concerns related to the new academic standards issued by the New
York State Department of Education in 1998, which require that
all students in public high schools pass five Regents exams to
graduate. Vocational students also have to pass a sequence of
courses designed to give them proficiencey in a trade.
of the issues for vocational schools is where to find the time—if
a student needs help to pass the exams—to provide them with the
extra help. Finding the time during the school day is a challenge
keenly felt in vocational schools,” said Mark Moskowitz, Principal
of Transit Tech HS in Brooklyn, explaining that the new academic
requirements often do not allow students to fulfill their occupational
Other principals expressed concerns that the new standards do
not place the same emphasis on vocational education, as they do
NYSDE and partly the NYCBOE, while they pay lip service to the
importance of multiple intelligences have put every kid in the
track for a four year college and have forgotten that there are
viable skills that give students the ability to succeed and to
earn a good living,” said Charles Bonnici, Principal of Fashion
Industries HS in Manhattan. “No credit is given to that. No one
really cares that kids have these other talents.”
Concern has also been raised over a lack of resources provided
to the schools to help meet the new standards.
love the raising of the standards…I think everyone should reach
a certain standard and above, but give me the resources to support
that,” said Hawthorne.
Concerns intensified this academic year because the passing grade
on the Regents was raised to 65, compared to the 55 required over
the past years. For some vocational-technical schools this increase
often leads to more students requiring additional academic support,
which takes the focus away from their vocational classes.
state’s message is to eliminate anything that does not prepare
kids to pass Regents exams,” said Frank Carucci, the United Federation
of Teachers (UFT) VP for vocational-technical high schools and
a passionate defender of vocational education.
Approximately 1,500 students attend Transit Tech. Upon graduating,
some students enter the work force in entry-level positions related
to their occupational sequences, while others enroll in two or
four year colleges.
have a dual appeal,” said Moskowitz. “Students are able to come
here and major in an area...They are able to develop in-depth
skills and knowledge in a given area, while having the ability
to obtain the same quality of academic programs as in traditional
academic high schools.”
Boasting an attendance rate of about 90 percent, Moskowitz added,
“Students want to be here and their parents want them to be here…This
is a school where students come by choice. They apply to be here.
They know where they want to be. They value the opportunities
offered to them here. Going to school every day is their job and
they do it.”
According to Bonnici, the occupational sequences also have a direct
impact on a student’s overall performance.
students come to Fashion they have a focus, an idea of what they
want to do in their future. When they first come there is a motivation
to do well because they are in interested in an occupation,” said
Bonnici. “We offer more than one pathway and we recognize that
all kids will not go on to a four year college.”
To maintain the focus on occupational sequences, while providing
their students with adequate academic support to pass the Regents,
the schools have launched various initiatives. At Transit Tech
all 9th grade students receive a 15 period week of block math
or science instruction. In addition, the school has instituted
math and writing workshops, while Fashion Industries uses Title
I funds to create after- school academic programs. Aviation HS
has become a de facto five year program to cram in both academic
and professional training that can lead to federal certification
to work in the aviation industry.
have tried to motivate the learning for those kids in Fashion
Design by saying that we will give you all the services we can
to graduate with a Regents diploma,” said Bonnici.
According to Carucci, to meet the new demands most vocational-technical
schools have also developed an integrative curriculum that “contextually
teaches academics through trade… This is not the solution we should
have been looking for. We do not have a way of accommodating kids
into this banner of higher standards…Vocational schools give kids
options. They get all they get if they went to Stuyvesant [specialized
high school], but the goal of our vocational schools is to also
give the skills and knowledge to specialize in an area of interest.”
Fashion Industries, according to Bonnici, works very hard to help
students pass the Regents on their first attempt to minimize the
effect of the new standards on their occupational sequences.
don’t have much of an argument with the Regents requirement. The
basic five Regents give kids the opportunity to explore different
areas and they stress critical thinking, which is necessary for
occupations,” said Bonnici, adding that his concern lies with
what happens after the students pass the Regents and then they
say that what they really wanted was to take more occupational
we were designed for students who had different skills,” said
Bonnici. “The students who fall behind academically and who need
vocational education even more get less of it.”
fact of the matter is that the majority of vocational education
graduates do go on to college and most of them are able to work
their way through school with the high paying skills that we’ve
been able to teach them. But, we also have an obligation to equip
the students who do not go on to higher education with the ability
to earn a good, middle-class living in a trade. So, in either
case we can’t lose the focus on occupational subject matter,”
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