As any kid knows, high school is hard. At such a young age you’re expected to excel in every field, even as arts, music, and shop classes become unfortunately less common. Which is why the New-York Historical Society is proud to be a Lead Partner of the new Stephen T. Mather Building Arts & Craftsmanship High School. Named after Stephen T. Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, this new high school will prepare students for careers, college and citizenship through hands-on exploration and skill training in historic preservation and related disciplines. We interviewed Larry D. Gabbard, Project Director, CTE School Planning, about the state of education today, and why a place like Mather is so needed.
What was the original inspiration for the Mather school?
Stephen Spaulding, Director, Historic Architecture, Conservation & Engineering Center, Northeast Region, and the National Park Service came to the Department of Education with this idea as there is a need for skilled craftspeople to work in the areas of historic preservation, specifically carpentry, masonry & plastering, decorative finishes and landscape management. In NYC there are also many outdoor “labs” available to students through the National Park Service from Ellis Island and Governor’s Island, to Federal Hall and the Tenement Museum. We wanted to provide these opportunities to students, as well as the chance to engage in learning from a real-world applications and hands-on skills training.
Why do you think a place like this is needed for high school students today?
There are so many reasons why students today need opportunities like this. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, students need options after high school. At Mather HS students can graduate and go on to study historic preservation, architecture, interpretation, or other related fields at college, or they can study anything they want to really as they will be prepared with strong work habits, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Or they can graduate and enter into an union or non-union apprenticeship and further hone the craft they started to learn at Mather, and craftspeople are in demand today. The US needs to be certain we have skilled masons, carpenters, plasterers, and landscape managers, to maintain our historic treasures, but also to address future issues around resource management and sustainability. Or, students can seek and be ready for viable employment immediately while they further plan their futures.
By the way, as a nation we talk about college readiness. All schools should strive for that, but college is expensive. I was college ready, but I had to work at Wendy’s and a local diner to pay my way through college. If I had had hand-skills and had developed a career-minded work ethic, I could have had more solid summer job opportunities or sideline jobs that could have provided more money for college.
Lastly, graduating college and career ready should mean graduating able to work in the labor market as it looks today. We focus on career-readiness through real job skills and mind frames. The “world of work” wants employees who are action-oriented and proactive, who can be risk-takers and can problem solve, who can collaborate, and follow-through. These trades offer opportunities to directly teach these.
What kind of curriculum will these students have?
The curriculum will be engaging and relative. I sat though many classes in high school where I wondered why I needed to know why I was learning something. Therefore, we will focus on real-world, problem-based learning, integrating hands-on applications and skills training in all classes, not the just the CTE (Career and Technical Education) classes.
What is the current job demand for jobs in building arts and historic preservation?
As long as we have buildings and parks there will always be jobs in these arenas. At a very basic skill level, students would be able to apply their knowledge to construction jobs which, while they run in cycles, have been constant over the years. We get surges of need after events like Sandy. On a high-skill level, as long as American’s treasure their cultural heritage and wish to preserve it, such as in sites like Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and the 400 national parks, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of structures and parks across the country there will always be a demand. Take NYC alone…it’s a city of brick and stone. Masons take care of that. Landscape managers are needed for the Botanical Gardens, Central Park or the many neighborhood public spaces. We also shouldn’t underestimate the value of aesthetics. It’s a beautiful world and we need experienced, skilled craftspeople to maintain that….and improve upon it.