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Article / Old School

Old School .

In the struggling community of East St. Louis, Illinois we’re opening young minds to the possibility of stable, good-paying careers in the skilled trades. Sr. Thea Bowman Catholic School sits in the middle of a city that ranks among the poorest in the area.

East St. Louis’ poverty rate is a gloomy 43 percent, and just 11 percent of residents hold a college degree. In decades past, vocational education offered low income kids an alternative career path that provided good jobs with the kind of paychecks that could lift them out of poverty. 

Unfortunately, many school districts dropped shop class long ago.

“We know that there’s a lack of young people wanting to go into hand-on type careers and sadly the schools don’t offer them anymore,” says Principal Dan Nickerson, an outspoken advocate for vocational class. “This is our chance to at least introduce them to it because it’s a good living."

Carpenters training school instructors Kenny Roche and Cathy Cook are spending time at the school teaching students some basic carpentry skills like woodworking, tools and proper technique. At the end of the course they each get their own bird house to take home.

With the average four-year public college now costing a whopping $25,000 a year (and private schools a lot more than that), higher education is simply out of reach for many young Americans. But kids attending Sr. Thea Bowman are learning that careers come in a wide variety ... and some of them can be pretty cool.