Visionary leaders in education are opening doors

June 08, 2011

Careers available to young people today might not have even been identifiable to students of 20 or more years ago. Gone are the days when a teen could learn to rivet sheet metal and be set for life; instead, students today are learning to animate computer games, fiddle with gnomes and install solar panels.

Washington County has been blessed with some visionary educational leaders who are seeing to it that our children are schooled in careers that will have relevance in the modern world. And in this season of graduation, it is appropriate to acknowledge these leaders and look to the future of employment in and beyond Washington County.

As a member of a group helping Hagerstown Community College chart its future, Hagerstown businessman Tom Newcomer recalled that a generation ago, employment options didn't extend much beyond farming and Mack Trucks.

Today, the simple skill sets of yesteryear that were necessary for success in life are a memory. Globalization has sapped much of our manufacturing industry, placing a premium on fields that include information, technology and biomedicine.

All of these new fields have been accentuated in curricula championed by HCC President Guy Altieri and former Washington County Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan.

Community colleges have always been the first responders to changing career needs, and true to form, HCC is investing in infrastructure that will channel kids into good careers in such emerging areas as biomedicine and alternative energy.

This benefits not just the students, but the rest of us as well. For example, many of us in the older crowd have trouble divorcing ourselves from the oily energy policies of yore. It will be up to students who are in community colleges today to think in ways that we do not think now, to break old molds and to show us the path to the future.

Likewise, Washington County Technical High School, under Principal Jeffrey Stouffer, is producing some amazing stories, including students who are layering their careers — learning a basic trade to finance their ultimate college studies.

Stouffer has written that “A successful school is one in which students are aware of and practice pride and respect for themselves, their school, their program and their teachers.”

That’s an apt statement, and we see this every day in schools across the county, from kindergartens to colleges. The educational system is aware that careers are not what they used to be, and students must be flexible and creative as they prepare for life.

As parents and as members of the community, it is our job, too, to become informed about this new vocational world of ours, and do all we can to congratulate our kids on their successes, help them get over their failures and urge them, one and all, toward bright futures.

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