THIS PAST SUMMER, I attended the final day of celebration for a boat-building camp for middle school students. The hands-on Building2Learn summer camp, hosted by the Carpenter Training Institute, All Hands Boatworks and the Building2Learn Consortium, gave students across the city of Milwaukee, Wis., an opportunity to build a seaworthy 12-foot Bevin skiff.
On the final day of the program, families and community stakeholders came together to celebrate not only the building of four boats but also a playhouse erected for a local community center that serves minority children. The youngsters voted to make their new playhouse a library to provide more access to books — a win-win partnership for everyone.
The summer boat-building camp is just one initiative of the B2L Consortium, a nonprofit organization launched in 2014 to provide pathways to lifelong employability for under-served students and a sustainable pipeline of talent for skilled trades careers.
The consortium brings together leaders of the building trades and manufacturing industries in the Milwaukee area with students, educators and industry professionals to prepare and motivate students to succeed in STEM-related work environments. Quality hands-on projects such as the boat-building camp expose students to career options connected to the trades and help them apply such skills as problem solving, teamwork and project management — skills that will serve them for a lifetime.
The trades are a viable postsecondary option for all students as they dream about their futures. In addition to partnering with the B2L Consortium, Brown Deer School District created the Skilled Trades Way, an initiative to recruit business partners to invest in our diverse district and build on our character education initiatives.
The goal of Skilled Trades Way, which embeds character education into all classes, is that students will graduate into a skilled-trades apprenticeship qualification process, fully confident in themselves and their ability to perform well. Brown Deer High School was the first public school nationally to receive a national promising practice award from Character.org for integrating the skilled trades into the curriculum. The program stresses such characteristics as responsibility, integrity, interpersonal skills, analytical skills and safety and efficiency.
Our trade/business partners teach students jobembedded skills through job-shadowing preapprenticeships and apprenticeships. Brown Deer graduates who qualify for skilled trade/construction apprenticeships and complete our construction/industry class (working alongside our partners) wear orange honors cords at our commencement ceremony to signify the highest academic achievement in the program.
We celebrate this milestone with an Industry Signing Day. The students sign their work contracts in a formal ceremony witnessed by our school community and legislators. Last spring, 12 Brown Deer students participated in Industry Signing Day.
Our skilled trades programming has grown alongside other educational offerings as a pathway to future success. With some ingenuity, we all can be a vital part of increased economic development in our school communities via partnerships with the skilled trades. If every high school nationwide had such a pathway, our country would collectively experience major growth of workers in the trades instead of struggling to fill workforce demands. Our students will be afforded many more opportunities as we create strengths-based pathways based on their passions.
At Brown Deer, we have resolved that all students should follow their passions to higher performance in academics and career planning. This is equity in action as we inspire, innovate and lead greatly, I hope others will join us on this exciting journey.