The students in American classrooms are a heterogeneous bunch. We encourage inclusion classrooms, adapt tests and classwork to students’ abilities and test virtually everyone. There are few homogenous classrooms in the United States. This affects our test scores, yet almost all of our students learn basic English and math skills before entering high school.
After students learn basic skills and enter their teen years, things start to change. Students’ interests diversify (and solidify to some extent). Their future plans are made. The Common Core Standards initiative is believed to be the vehicle that will ready all students for the future. However, I have thoughts and ideas of an educational system that I believe would make North Fork students superior to any in the nation.
What if we had one high school system divided into three schools? I mean a system that encompassed the North Fork, Laurel to Orient Point, in which individual districts kept their own elementary schools but share one high school system. A centralized high school has been proposed in the past, but I would use that idea in a different way.
What if each of our three high schools offered separate, specialized programs? One would be a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) high school. Students whose interests lie in those fields would study their required courses there — and then go deeper and further into STEM fields. This high school would offer STEM elective courses that give students an opportunity to advance in those subjects.
The second high school would be the college prep school. This is the school for students who want to go to a four-year college. Again, basic high school courses would be taught there, too, but electives would be different from the STEM school. English, foreign languages, music, art, history and economics would be offered at the college prep high school. The opportunity to study music, art or literature for several hours a day would produce professional artists and writers of a high caliber.
The third school would offer vocational classes. Currently, the closest vocational school is in Riverhead. Our town has two senior care facilities, a hospital, beauty salons, auto workshops, restaurants, bakeries and other businesses that could partner with a new vocational school — and I believe there is a mutual benefit to a school-community partnership.
Vocational schools are not lesser schools than any others and are desperately needed on the North Fork. Electricians today are the electrical engineers of tomorrow. Nurses’ aides are our future doctors.
In order for this plan to work, there will have to be a great deal of compromise. Students must be allowed to switch high schools if their plans or interests change. The elementary schools may have to send students as young as 12 to one of the high schools to start their basic coursework. Schools may lose their individual identities, but the positives outweigh the negatives. Think of students being so excited about what they’re learning that they want to stay after school to complete their projects. Imagine a school newspaper covering news in all three high schools. Imagine concerts every weekend!
While technology is important, there are other emerging fields that need our attention. Health care advances allow people to live longer, but only with trained professionals. Builders must learn to work with new materials every day. Energy efficiency ideas continue to grow and emerge: geothermal heat, wind energy (think smaller, quieter wind turbines), solar and advances to sewer infrastructure. Perhaps some light industry will become a part of the North Fork landscape. Nonetheless, students in the vocational high school will have plenty of jobs waiting for them.
This is my dream and educators wiser than I will have to carry it into the future. But it will happen somewhere, sometime. What better place than here?
Ms. Goldsmith is an Oysterponds school board member. She lives in East Marion.