Monday, May 27, 2024

Three amazing young adults spoke at an MIT Job Connector career program last week – all about Cambridge being a place where all things are possible while pointing out the absence of non-college offerings at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, our only public high school.

Judy, an amazing athlete who went on to the University of Massachusetts, Boston, said she followed the crowd in high school and did only the things others wanted to affirm. Because her parents were Haitian immigrants and wanted a stable route for her, and because there was no “entrepreneurial “ programs at CRLS, she followed a traditional track. She now has an inspired entrepreneurial spirit stoked by an “aha” moment that commercial real estate is everywhere and is on a path of networking and growth in small- and medium-size commercial real estate.

Jeff was equally amazing. He did not like traditional academics at and struggled to get his GED diploma. Eventually he arrived at Bunker Hill Community College, where he got business instruction. When a family member was going to sell a house, he decided to get his real estate license; realizing improvements were needed, he decided to get his general contractors license – something that is very difficult for a non-construction person. He got jobs in light engineering and watched YouTube videos to learn, and networked to find nontraditional lending. He now has a general contractor business and has bought and sold properties, doing it all on his own. His story, in which he stressed the importance of a base salary to lead to growth, is jaw-dropping.

Last is Brendan, who is in an apprenticeship program run by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Local 103. Brendan gave huge credit to Sara Reese-Monestime, a career counselor at CRLS who connected him with the union. He said if not for her and others who pushed that relationship, he would not be on his way to serious money.

Why is there not an electrical program at CRLS to meet demand created by a technological age, Brendan asked. Why not more trades at the school?

Judy, Jeff and Brendan each pointed to the embarrassment of opportunity in Cambridge, but places such as the Job Connector, Just A Start, My Brothers keeper, the Cambridge Works Program and Cambridge Housing Authority can only help to triage the lack of cohesive employment network for our community. It’s not enough. Only Cambridge Public Schools has the needed access to all of our young people for 13 years.

In 2000-2001, school district superintendent Bobbie D’Alessandro undertook a study to understand the student need and desire for technical education. As mayor, I had met each eighth-grader individually for two years and heard so many say they wanted very specific training. D’Alessandro’s survey also showed we needed a strong, in-house technical education program: More than half of our kids were aligned with some form of technical training. And at that time, city manager Robert W. Healy jumped at the chance to fund a rebuild.

I applaud superintendent Victoria Greer for taking a new, hard look at technical education. Twenty years after we added biotechnology and graphic design as well as space and funding, it has been depleted and ignored again. State laws protect students’ rights to it, but laws are only as good as their enforcement.

I know class and race politics undermine technical education, but this neglect must now be construed as intentional.

We know that this is not a money or resources issue. Is the concern that an affluent, college-track student gets interested in electrical work or entrepreneurship? Every student would benefit from the real-time energy of a rejuvenated, full-range technical and entrepreneurial program. The status quo avoids tough decisions and hard work. Change may challenge the CRLS philosophy of college prep, but it must be done now.

Today is a new day to re-create technical education. The future is upon us. Kids are looking at the new world and saying “Give us what we need,” and if what Judy, Jeff and Brendan tell us means anything, we must launch a new, technologically and entrepreneurially integrated program at CRLS with a small-business entrepreneurial loan fund for low-income startups. Money, space and accountability must be addressed, with the business and university community lining up to help.

Further, this would energize the current challenged school climate at CRLS. I am optimistic our mayor, School Committee, City Council and the energy of new City Manager Yi-An Huang will rise to address these inequities. We stand poised to help.