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Construction Everywhere But No Black Tradesmen To Work In The Industry
8/6/2014 4:15:50 PM

Garrett Academy of Technology students
By Damion Smalls

This year tens of thousands of new building permits will be issued in Charleston County alone with construction costs totaling billions of dollars. The work is out there, but there will be few Black skilled tradesmen to fill those jobs. Many point to Charleston County School District’s elimination of trade classes in high schools as the reason.

Many hoped that after Rivers Middle School students were moved to the Burke High School campus, district administrators would institute a vocational training program at the old Rivers campus. That happened two years ago after several years push from advocates for the Lowcountry Tech program which jointly shares the Rivers campus with the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science.

The boon of construction in the area is providing craftsmen unlimited economic opportunities. But most students, especially those at predominantly Black schools, are not getting the training that will enable them to take advantage of the opportunities.

Currently Garrett Academy of Technology is the county’s only school focusing exclusively on vocational education. Some 700 students from all over the county attend the academy. But that represents only a fraction of the county’s 45,000 students.

A few years ago Schools to Career Director Jodi Bateman said there has been some discussion about creating more vocational trade programs at high schools in the county.

Bateman thought the low number of students in trade courses stems from a common belief that a college education is the most lucrative route to economic prosperity. Despite the availability of jobs, Charleston County school District officials say students aren’t interested in trade courses.

Former Constituent Dist. 20 School Board Chairman Marvin Stewart said the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If Black parents don’t demand vocational education at their neighborhood high schools they won’t get them, he said. County school board members won’t advocate for them he’s convinced. “They can’t even relate to that dynamic,” he said.

Stewart thinks the Dist. 20’s only high school, Burke High, should be one of those schools.

“There’s a lot of money in the skilled vocations,” he said, “Just look at what it cost for automobile repairs. Providing trade courses at every high school is unlikely, but more schools need them, he said.

Certainly low performing schools like Burke would be more on track if they had more alternatives for students. There is a tremendous need for vocational education, but we won’t get it overnight. Parents will have to demand it.” he said.

Greater interest from students will come when their parents see the benefits, Stewart believes. To do that the school district has to do more in the way of offering parents workshops and seminars that address the issue, he said suggesting that churches also may play a role in the process.

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