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Programs That Support Students on the Spectrum: What to Look ForBecky Bogoslavsky, MA
The choices of post-secondary education are vast and impressive. I can say that now, having been out of high school myself for many years.
During high school, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Due to a need to change schools, I learned about the technical high school in my area. It had a childcare program which I thought would be great preparation for teaching.
I was entering my sophomore year in high school and the technical school had a mandatory “exploration year," requiring students to participate in all the available programs. Because of this I learned about things I probably wouldn't have tried on my own. Operating a drill press, assembling lawnmower engines, learning about cosmetology and architecture and even cars. I discovered I had abilities I didn't know about. I excelled in traditional academics more than working with my hands, but I learned I was capable.
As time went on, I earned degrees in Criminal Justice Administration and worked briefly in a juvenile court setting. I went on to do administrative work for a nonprofit health organization and then began work as an Admissions Counselor at a nonprofit technical college. While working in admissions, I was immediately taken back to my high school experience and found it easy to speak to prospective students, their parents/guardians, teachers and counselors.
While my position has changed from Admissions to Director of Residential Life, my appreciation for technical education has grown even more.
Technical/vocational education has always been thought of as a safety net for those not academically inclined. This view is communicated in all aspects of a student’s interaction with their teachers and counselors. And it's true that many students who are a great fit for technical/vocational education often do not perform well in traditional academic settings because they are hands-on learners. They retain information by doing and are not afforded the option in traditional settings.
But the fields represented in technical/vocational education are necessary and vital to our daily lives and this type of education should be presented as a viable option for students of all levels of academics.
Instead it's common for high-achieving students to be encouraged to attend traditional colleges while students who are not doing as well are guided to military or technical/vocational education based only on their grades and not their interests. Those pathways are honorable and lead to success, but the motivation to place students on those pathways is questionable.
My work at a technical college over the last 15 years has confirmed what I learned during high school. Technical/vocational education is not always respected but we cannot live our lives without it. This attitude towards technical education also stems in part from technical education being used to provide job skills to students with learning differences. In many cities in the United States, the technical/vocational high schools are under the Special School Districts which have a stigma of their own which must change as well.
The truth is, students attending accredited, industry-respected technical colleges can graduate with less student debt; a certificate, associate or bachelor's degree; and the prospect of making a great salary immediately after graduation.
How can parents help their students learn about the option of technical/vocational education?
Many parents don’t talk to their students about their interests and how to turn those interests into career opportunities. The world has changed so much since many of us were in high school. Industries such as PC and Console Gaming have grown exponentially and now there are several career paths from Coding, Game Design, Marketing, etc. Parents listening to their students and learning their interests can be a great start.
Take some time to look into the industries your student is interested in to learn about the opportunities. When career choices are explored, we often look at one area such as an Automotive Technician. While that is one career choice, there are also people who manage the other technicians and the functions of the shop. There are opportunities to teach new techniques in the field or even in school settings. There are many options beyond the few job titles we may be familiar with.
A parent’s confidence in and support of their student’s journey after high school is so important. A parent can inspire a student to be not just successful in a career path but also to grow into the best person they can be. The transition from doing things for your student to doing things with your student is empowering. It shows you trust your student to make the right choices.
Often parents in favor of traditional education are not a fan of technical education because it can feel like an option for a parent who has failed their student. This has been expressed to me by parents over the years. This perspective is so far from the truth. It’s often proven when the student enters classes and receives stellar grades. The parents don’t recognize their student because they're excited about class and radiate success in every aspect from grades to their future career choices.
Technical educational has so many benefits but the most important are that a student can be happy with their choice, successful in their studies and career, earn an excellent salary, and live a fulfilled life. I keep in touch with alumni of my institution, and many are doing very well in their career fields and personal lives. I am so excited to receive wedding invites, baby announcements, housewarming notices, vacation pictures, family updates, etc. The best part of my work is when alumni return and speak to current students to affirm their choice.
The advice I can give based on my experience is simply to be open to all educational options, keeping in mind what is best for your student’s interests and way of learning. Parental influence is powerful. You can use the power to guide your student to a path that is best for them.
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