Rochester K-12 education: What do I need this ‘stuff’ for anyway?

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Most often the response by a student as to why he/she dropped out of school is, “What do I need this s— for anyway?” It seems to me that if we address that question, respond to that question with a well thought out solution and implementation, we will have a lot fewer kids throwing in the towel. That begs the question, why don’t we show kids professions and/or careers early on and throughout their K-12 journey? Why don’t we show them how those boring academics are connected with, or related to, the many opportunities that exist and are available to them? If we could find a way to do that, we would increase the odds of keeping kids in school and graduating with a purpose and a clear pathway to a successful post-high school education. Whether a certificate program, a college/university, or a job opportunity with additional business-sponsored training/education, it would lead to a living wage future. It would also allow an individual to be in a position to make choices. Last but not least, while living by example, that success is contagious and will be passed on to the next generation.

The Rochester City School District (RCSD) system has failed the urban Rochester kids for decades. While there is, at times, the appearance of improvement, too often those improvements are the result of lowering the bar. While dropping out is sad, students that graduate only to fail in their first semester of advanced education because they were ill-prepared, is tragic. They have been promised yet deceived by an educational system assuring them success if they just stick it out. Unfortunately for them, they suddenly realize that the K-12 educational journey was inadequate. We are all aware of the RCSD system failure to the point of anticipating failure and even accepting it for what it is. At some point we have to say, enough!

So how can we address the educational shortcoming? What can we do to allow our kids to discover their innate skill or gift? All kids… let me repeat that… all kids have innate skills or gifts. The K-12 journey should provide kids the opportunity to discover those gifts and expand on that interest. Instead, today, we show them nothing during their journey yet expect them to be enthused, responsive and stay the course.

Enter the Thearena Venue.

Thearena \’thee’arena\ (noun) 1. A combination of the theater and arena, creating a unique learning space for the urban high school student, which will provide real live demonstrations of careers and professions. 2. A career discovery center. 3. A venue which injects relevancy to the traditional educational setting utilizing all five of the senses.

While this type of venue may appear to be nothing more than common sense, it is apparently overlooked and even ignored by the “experts” in the field of education. This educational omission results in absenteeism, dropouts, and a low graduation rate. It fails the student in the most important aspect of a high school education, post high school success. That failure and subsequent loss of opportunity then gives way to poverty, crime, and general misery for a lifetime. Rochester, NY is a prime example of this, but through innovation and this Thearena, as well as other educational enhancements, we can alter the direction toward urban success.

Walk the Talk. Show me……. Don’t just tell me!

The above rendering of the Thearena venue shows an entire mobile MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tractor trailer within the building with the seating arranged to view this medical imaging device. In this case the presenters are the Nurse, Technologist, Doctor, Truck Driver, Salesperson, and the Equipment Engineer. Each one to make a presentation regarding their chosen profession. This would also include basic digital MRI images projected via the giant screens. The presenters provide the education requirements, the range of salaries and the job market opportunities. The venue has the flexibility to be rearranged in seating toward any demonstration. The presentation stage is flexible and will accommodate any demonstrated profession or career. From first responders to veterinarian careers, to pipe fitters, to manufacturers, to medical careers, you name the vocation or profession, and it can be demonstrated by local and national companies alike. The demonstrators utilizing this unique setting will be allowed to communicate with the students in a custom, intimate and ‘cool’ setting. The Thearena venue will provide those demonstrating with a stage like no other, easily adapting it to their presentation. In turn it will provide the student attendees with a most memorable presentation. It will stir an interest; it will allow them to learn and discover. It will be the talk of the town and it will have them asking questions and expanding their knowledge base. It will go a long way toward having them discover their post-high school journey.

We used to have a first-class vocational high school by the name of Edison Technical and Industrial High School. It was, in fact, the crown jewel of the RCSD. That school provided a 9th grade exploratory program in which the student spent several weeks in every vocation offered. It included auto mechanics, mechanical drawing, textiles, printing, foundry, machine shop, etc. Upon completion of that exploratory year the student selected their vocation. That chosen vocation was four periods a day, in addition to four periods of academics, for the next three years. That resulted in highly trained students with options. Rochester companies snapped up the graduates who in turn received very good paying jobs and opportunities for advanced training. If we brought back a true vocational high school the Thearena would introduce the student in the lower grades to those vocational opportunities. There is a direct correlation between the Thearena, vocational education or other professions and careers. The Thearena provides exposure and opportunities early in the educational journey preparing the student for the next step, that of career choice.

Today many companies are struggling to find qualified individuals to hire and train. Coupled with that struggle, most of our student population is unaware that these companies and opportunities even exist. The coming together of students and those demonstrating their wares will open minds and produce interest. It will populate after-school exploratory clubs, providing additional information and contacts about a specific career or profession. It will allow the student to connect his/her perceived boring academics with a purpose.

Rochester is a city with gun violence, drugs, crime, teenage pregnancy, child poverty and generational poverty. The major contributors to that populace are those who drop out of school and/or are poorly educated. Education is the foundational issue when it comes to reducing a considerable amount of the city woes. There is a direct correlation between the education crisis and all the street misery. It’s time to invite some educational creativity and to finally approach education with the mission of allowing kids to realize the purpose, joy, and personal pride associated with educational success.

It has been said that, the day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.The Thearena is an “out of the box” approach to addressing the education crisis. This venue was reviewed some time ago by Charles Hiteshew, CEO Talent Development Secondary, Johns Hopkins. That review included the following quotations regarding the Thearena Complex:

“I love the idea of the Thearena Complex as a powerful enhancement.”

“It can play a very crucial role on the school-to-career front, which is a powerful plank in the school transformation plan.”

“A great way for middle school students to survey potential pathways and make informed choices about actual career themes at the end of ninth grade.”

“The number one reason why student drops out is a lack of (perceived) relevance to the real world.”

Enough said. We can do this! As a community we can make this happen.

Josh Jochem Porte

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One thought on “Rochester K-12 education: What do I need this ‘stuff’ for anyway?

  1. This is another great concept that will not be incorporated like many other great ideas. The reason from where I sit is simple = we have a dysfunctional School Board and out of touch Teacher’s Union President. These two pieces of the puzzle are the 2 consents for the past 30 years that keep RCSD at or near the bottom of the high school rankings in NYS. If we really want change – and I do not know who the ‘we’ is because when I hear ‘the community’ – I think of Monroe County! Not the City of Rochester! Monroe County is the ‘community’ that is most affected by the results of students not graduating and not learning.
    Here is 2 cents ( maybe 5 cents ) = 1) WE, Monroe County, needs to non- paid ‘Community School Board, 2) Allow the NEW community school board to enlist an advisory Board of key community leaders, the Chamber, and others to build a PLAN TO CORRECT THE CURRENT APPROACH 3) Change the contract arrangement with the teachers ( disconnect from Adam Urbanski regime ) 4) Create an environment that is LASER FOCUSED on our Students learning to become productive citizens.
    I do not have all the answers but I spent 15 years as a Board member of Hillside Work Scholarship Connection and understand the environment surrounding the RCSD and its dysfunction.
    As the author of the article said -‘ We can do this! As a community we can make it happen!’ Well, Community?

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