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From the publisher: Career fields can't stop at math, science

March 14, 2011

Doctor, lawyer or crime-fighting chief, which one of these things would you like to be?
That is the kind of question students at Tuttle Elementary School were asked this week, and on Friday, I joined more than 20 professionals from throughout Catawba County in trying to help provide a few answers. The school’s “Career Roundup” was a great way for young people to learn about many career options available to them as they begin charting their paths into a profession. It was also a great way for leaders of our community to share why we chose the careers we did.
In nearly nine years in Catawba County, I have been to countless career days, either as a guest, or to provide coverage. During that time, it has become clear that on every level, from school teachers all the way up to system administrators, the people responsible for educating our next generation of leaders are dedicated to helping young people forge successful lives for themselves. So, too, are the professionals who hold positions in our workforce to which young people aspire.
That is a great thing, and it is a positive mark for this community — a selling point for a county that is polishing up its every amenity in hopes of winning new industry, new jobs and new residents.
Evidence of the county’s education systems’ dedication toward career preparation extends beyond special days where visitors grace school hallways, however.
Educational opportunities emerging during recent years illustrate a broader commitment to helping students ready themselves for cutting-edge careers that will replace manufacturing as the backbone of our local economy.
That said, I can’t help but wonder what we are doing to help young people who might not be cut out for math and science fields? Or for young folks who don’t want to enter a technical vocation that delivers services our society requires?
There’s little doubt that Newton-Conover’s Health Science High School is turning out graduates who will be health care professionals, engineers or professionals in other fields.
The same is true for the Challenger High School, where high school students can earn associate degrees on their way to higher education or other technical professions in the workforce. Don’t forget the N.C. Engineering Technology Center, and the Hickory Metro Higher Education Center. All of these places are delivering a great education for young engineers, business people and health care professionals. There’s plenty of other programs focusing on careers based in math, science and business that are thriving in our high schools and community college, too.
Preparing students for careers based on math and science is certainly a good thing, but these types of programs don’t reach every young person.
How are we helping hopeful artists or photographers? How are we preparing singers, actors or musicians for their own careers? What are we doing to help the folks, like me, who try to string words and sentences together to convey thoughts?
While we focus on those students equipped to pursue careers based on math and science, are we letting all of the “humanities” fall through the cracks?
I many ways, at least from a public education standpoint, I fear we are.
Sure, education in math and science leads to careers in emerging fields like technology, health care and business, but if our only focus is in these areas, our society will very quickly become very boring.
Think about it.
What would our world be like if we don’t also start fostering students who want to become artists, musicians, chefs, designers, historians or follow countless other careers that require less ‘rithmatic and its sister, science, and more reading and writing?
Fortunately, there’s good news toward this end. In its first year, the Hickory Career Arts and Magnet High School (HCAM) offers students countywide the opportunity to pursue disciplines like culinary arts, graphic design, cosmetology, theater arts and photography. More options will be forthcoming to the school Hickory Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lillie Cox told members of the Catawba Valley Rotary Club on Thursday.
And while HCAM is funded by a three-year grant, currently administrators are promising that the school will be self-sustaining after that grant concludes. Unfortunately, in a time when education funding is threatened at the state level, the reality is, the future for every school and every program in our school systems are uncertain.
That is especially true for disciplines that don’t relate to subjects of math and science.
That means that no matter how many successful students a school like HCAM produces, it, too could go the way of music, choir, art and even physical education classes that have disappeared from far too many schools.
Focusing on preparing students for careers based in math, science and technology is good, but it is important to realize a “Career Roundup” would be incomplete without hairdressers, artists, graphic designers — and even newspaper writers.

Michael Willard is the publisher of The Observer News Enterprise.

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