With a deadline approaching the other day for coming up with a subject for this newsletter, I was scratching for a decent idea. I had to pick something fast and was within minutes of picking a tepid default topic, when completely out of the ether, one of my three favorite daughters-in-law, who works at Minnetonka H.S., emailed me information about an impressive, newly embellished program there called “Momentum.” Subtitled “Minnetonka High School’s Design and Skilled Trades Program,” it’s described as a “rolling out” of a new name and new opportunities for the 2020-21 school year.

Emailing back to Jane immediately, I said, “I’m certainly no great authority on what Minnesota high schools are doing to inspire students regarding the trades, but I find it hard to believe any school is doing as much as Minnetonka High School—not to mention more.” Hyperbole probably but given how the school’s themes are identical to those explored for several years now by my American Experiment colleagues and me, I was revved.

In an opening comment accompanying a beautifully crafted brochure, Principal Jeffrey Erickson refers to a Minnetonka School Board goal with clear echoes of the Center’s Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree project. He wrote of creating “awareness and support for all students on all pathways (trades, military, gap years, technical school, colleges and universities, etc.) to promote the best match for each student.”

Courses cited in the brochure include two interesting new ones.

“Metal Sculpture,” open to students in Grades 9-12, will combine “artistic creation along with technical instruction using steel and other materials.” Likewise addressed will be construction processes such as “Oxy/Acetylene, Arc, MIG and TIG welding.” I’m cloudy on some of these things, but I have written about Marco Rubio talking famously about welding during a Republican presidential debate back in 2015.

My favorite new course, both because of its imaginative synthesis and its direct tie to Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree, is “Physics of Home Renovation,” open to students in Grades 11-12. This course is intended to give a “working conceptual view of the Trades Industry,” in part by “incorporating key principles of physics through the lens of design.”  Nice pairing.

Importantly, the course connects with what David Siegel, executive director of Housing First Minnesota, told me in a 2018 interview. “We’re hearing across the association that a ten-percent increase in business would not be sustainable right now because of lack of staffing.” And that when it comes to both building and remodeling homes, it’s taking four, five, or six months to do what some might assume should take only two. My guess things have grown only tighter and tougher over the last two years.

“Momentum” is the product of a Trades Advisory Board, staff and administrators, and student focus groups, with one kid quoted as saying:

“I’m not the kind of person who likes to sit in a chair all day. I learn by doing, through hands-on, independent work that allows me to identify problems and stick with it until I find a solution. My long-term goals are to be happy in a well-paying career where I can use my hands, do what I love and be useful to my family and community.”

Sounds about right.

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