"Why are we here?" might sound a bit like the beginning of an existential crisis, but fear not, I'm simply talking about why SAIL exists.
SAIL was created for a two big reasons, and we'll map them out here. There might be some controversial thoughts along the way, but bear with me, I'll offer of disclaimers to make you feel better.
Reason one: We are losing workers in the skilled trades. If we are all being honest, baby boomers dominate the trade industry. Our grandparents and parents filled those jobs and encouraged us to "be better." They wanted us to attend college and find "better" jobs. This is great in theory, right? "These jobs pay better, offer more security and physical safety, etc." However, if you look up the numbers - and I encourage you to do so - that isn't accurate. Pushing generations of students into college did a few things. First, and foremost, it created a shortage in the fields we rely on the most. Have you tried to find a plumber lately? An electrician? It can be tough, and we are incredibly lucky in our community to have the options we do. Second, it moved our younger generations out of rural communities. I was born and raised in Huron County, I moved away and opted to move back. The decision was simple for me, I love it here. However, as we push our kids to "find better" - we push our kids away when there is a plethora of opportunity here! Third, we created a lot of unnecessary debt for our students. College is expensive - I don't even have to write that, it's common sense now. I could write an entire blog on this thought online, and maybe someday I will, but we have a lot to cover here.
What if I told you that through apprenticeships, true Department of Labor registered apprenticeships, we could solve those issues. If we changed our thought process and embraced the idea that college is not for everyone, we could literally change the world. Encouraging our students to really do their research and understand the various roadmaps to their futures would clean up some of the hiccups we've created. Did you know that some apprenticeships actually pay for students to attend college? Did you know that students completing an apprenticeship, on average, make the same as those with a college degree - but without the debt? Did you know students finishing an apprenticeship receive credentials and experience that make them hirable across the US? Did you know educating students on their communities and the opportunities there might just encourage them to stay? That last note is just an observation, I cannot back it with numbers, but just think about it. How many social media posts do we see complaining about the decline of rural America, and how many of those same posters are pushing their kids to cities for better opportunities? We cannot have it both ways. We need (and want) our youth to stay!
My disclaimer, college is for some. There are some careers and some students of which college is a necessity. We just need to be better about having deeper conversations to know who those kids are and where we should lead them.
Reason two: we need options for alternative learning. Notice I said alternative "learning" and not alternative education. We have options in the Thumb for those seeking an alternative education. What we are creating with SAIL is simply an alternative option to all that we already offer in the Thumb. We were created to offer something a bit different for students of all abilities. Could we be a landing ground for a gifted student looking to manage their time differently? Yes. Could we be a landing ground for a typical student struggling in the traditional classroom, or maybe they want to work during the day and do their schooling at night? Sure thing. What about students who are behind in credits or maybe behavior issues that prevent success in a typical classroom? We can do that too. The pandemic created a lot of anxieties for our students in the classroom. In looking at our current roster, 60% said anxiety was a driving factor in their decision to apply to SAIL. What SAIL serves as is a place for students to take back a bit of control. We give them their core classes online and they build their education based on their interests, their future goals, and what they are comfortable with. This will look different for everyone, this could include work placements, in-person electives or technical courses. This control has helped these anxieties and in some unexpected ways. Last year, for example, we had two students spend the year with us. The control over their learning gave them the confidence to join the traditional classroom this year. In that case, we acted as a stepping stone for them to bridge the gap between the pandemic and post-pandemic world.
My disclaimer, this is not saying typical education is bad. Again, teachers are heroes, and the work they do is unmatched. This is just another option, and not an option that will work for everyone. Our community is very lucky to offer the choices we have in education to our students, not many rural areas can say the same. We have great school districts who work together to offer a solid education to the area youth. The Huron Area Technical Center is one of the best in the world of CTE, and Ascent is doing wonders as an alternative program. SAIL is just another option for our kids looking to better themselves and create a different roadmap to their future. We offer a choice and who doesn't love choices?
Someday, let's circle back on this conversation. There's a third reason for SAIL, a goal, and that's to give back to our community. That will be a lengthy post itself one day. We are settling in and proving to be a bit like the Little Engine That Could. Once we get our footing, we'll prove to you over and over the asset we are to the community and just why we are here.