GRUNDY, Va. - Years ago, everyone did vocational-technical learning, but then things changed and students were directed toward college instead. .Now, there's another move that aims to provide more access to career and technical education and giving these trades the recognition they deserve.
It used to be called vocational education, or "vo-tech," and it used to be a key component in schools. But a shift in the late 1980s put most people on the track for college.
Putting everyone in the same basket had multiple effects. Some people forced into college didn't succeed because their skills and interests were better suited elsewhere, while the pool of available workers with technical and vocational skills dwindled.
In recent years, there's been yet another move, this one aimed at providing more access to career and technical education and giving these trades the recognition they deserve.
Piece by piece, drip by drip, students at Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia are learning how to change the oil on a Jeep and give it a once-over.
It's part of a shift at the school in Grundy. The school serves as a school, church, and home to boys and girls of all ages. They come from all over the region, the country, and the world.
While college is the ultimate goal for most of these kids, the school realizes there are some students who are better suited by skill and desire to learn a trade.
The lessons these kids learn go beyond the classroom and garage. Teacher Dave Mayer says, "It's an opportunity for character building in that we are not just teaching them to fix something. We are teaching them not to quit."
Nearly 90 percent of kids here come from families living below the federal poverty level. Studies show the skills they learn here will help them break that cycle and go on to be successful adults.
Rebeka Urges is well on her way to achieving her dreams of studying auto mechanics and engineering. She says Mountain Mission is worlds away from her home country of Ethiopia.
Until she came here four years ago, this type of life just didn't exist. "Before I came here I didn't know I could go to college, but now I have a future. I have a future," she said.
Classroom work challenges the students to think out of the box and use technology to research what they don't know. The research shows traditional learning, taught alongside hands-on experiences, helps reach at-risk students.
And it was that hands-on work that helped get a school bus rolling again. David Mayer says, "Mechanically we had a lot of engine repair to do, and we eventually painted the bus."
With all that work, the bus now transports the school's choir to concerts around the region, as well as the sports teams to their games. The project took months and was a labor of love. "We used this as good family time. We'd say, 'Who wants to work on the bus?' [and they'd say], 'I do! I do," Mayer told us.
And doing is what it's all about here -- providing opportunities and hope where there may not have been before.
A study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows there will be an estimated 55 million job openings in the United States in 2020, about a third of those jobs will go to people who have an occupational certificate.
Researchers say the salaries for people with a trade or skill are still lower than most jobs with a college degree, but not all.
To learn more about the Mountain Mission School and how you can help donate to the school or apply click here to visit their website, or contact Jayne Duehring, Director of Advancement for Mountain Mission School, at 276-645-1457.