Chicago Tribune

The case for shop class: How vocational schools and gap years can help ease academic anxiety

WINNETKA, Ill. - When New Trier High School student Ben Matejka got his results from the ACT, he was pleased with his score of 27, comfortably above the national average of about 21.

But when Ben told his friends, some of their responses took him aback. He got condolences.

"My score was much higher than the national average, but New Trier is not a typical high school," said Matejka, 18, a recent graduate, who this fall headed off to start his freshman year at the University of Denver.

That attitude - that students at elite public high schools such as New Trier must do more than just "good" on college admissions tests - is merely one example of the way kids are told there is only one pathway to success. Many students at high-performing schools such as Stevenson High School in Lake County and Naperville North High School feel they need to get fantastic grades, ace their standardized tests, participate in plenty of extra-curricular activities and sports, and then go on to elite, big-name universities.

But going to an Ivy League school, or even a four-year university, isn't achievable - or desirable - for every student, experts say, and they argue the mindset that anything else would be failure causes real harm. Thinking this way can create a barrier for students, they claim, blocking them from seeking nontraditional educational and career pathways,

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