Guest Op-ed: High School Education for the 21st Century, Right Here in the City of Boston

By Kevin McCaskill

Call them the Latest Generation. Young adults are putting off home ownership, marriage, and children — all benchmarks of becoming an adult, since World War II. But as 44 million Americans grapple with student debt, college has made these life milestones increasingly unattainable, and for some, unimaginable.

It’s easy to see why. The average cost of tuition at a four-year, private college has doubled in the past 30 years; for public colleges, it has tripled. Meanwhile, the average household income has basically remained flat.

As the Executive Director of Boston’s only vocational technical education high school, Madison Park, I see first hand a change in the air.  Young Americans are beginning to re-think the prevailing wisdom of the past several decades: that college is the ultimate pathway for a better future. Instead, I see more young Americans turning their eyes to get a jump start on the workforce and on life.

Here at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, classes are only part of the story. Through our new and visionary partnerships with building trades unions IBEW Local 103, IUPAT District Council 35 and New England Carpenters, our students have the unique opportunities to learn a trade and earn good wages, all while earning academic credits. And through our dual enrollment program with local community colleges, for the first time, next year’s graduates will have the opportunity to matriculate with not only a high school diploma, but an associate’s degree.

Talk about bang for your buck.

It’s real, practical skills that are making Madison Park increasingly enticing to students. Next year, we will be adding our 20th vocational program, HVAC (Heating Ventilation, and Air Conditioning). And the incoming freshmen class will be the biggest in years, pushing enrollment well over 1,000 for the first time in recent memory.

Vocational schools are back. Instead of waiting four years for a degree, high school graduates leave with real, hands-on experience in a trade. As Greater Boston’s building boom continues to drive up demand for tradespeople, what better time to enter the workforce, equipped with sought-after skills?

And it’s not just building trades like Electrical, Metal Fabrication or Plumbing that are available. Madison Park offers: Design & Visual Communications, Graphic Arts, Media Arts, Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Cosmetology, Health, Dental, & Medical Assistant, Programming & Web Development, Information Systems, and Auto Collision &Technology. In short, much of the same training available at an expensive college is available — for free — at a public high school right here in Boston.

Once you fall in love with something, the rest can often fall into place. At Madison Park, we open doors and provide all of our students with ample opportunities to thrive. Students here, exposed to many different things, often find their calling, something they had never even considered before.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has made the cancellation of student debt a central plank of her campaign for president. Other candidates have spoken of plans to provide free, or partially free public college. The crippling burden of student debt is impacting a generation’s ability to build sustaining lives for themselves, and is ultimately hurting the whole economy.

This isn’t to say college is out of the question. In fact, our valedictorian for this year’s senior class is a young woman of color from South Boston who took up our Health Assistant program. She excelled in the program, and thanks to her hard work, will attend Northeastern University on a full scholarship this fall, with her eyes set on a clear goal: Biology and a future career in medicine.

College debt is an issue that Americans are finally paying attention to. But instead of wishing that our leaders will someday find a solution, more Americans are smartly avoiding the student loan trap altogether. At schools like Madison Park, students have found the skills they need to get a high-paying, stable, sustainable employment now. This is what authentic education is supposed to do.

Kevin McCaskill is the Executive Director of Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, the City of Boston’s only career-vocational technical high school.

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