Some Jewish high school grads opt for career or skill training, gap-year programs as an alternative to traditional four-year college route.
By Shari S. Cohen
During senior year, most Jewish high school students are already thinking about college roommates and orientation schedules. But there are some seniors who don’t pursue college immediately after high school graduation.
“Some aren’t that academic in their interests. Maybe they don’t enjoy school and are hands-on learners,” observes Debra Silver, career development services supervisor at JVS Human Services (jvshumanservices.org).
For students who say, “College isn’t for me, but I don’t know what I want to do,” JVS offers a comprehensive career assessment — helping young people identify their work-related skills, the personal strengths they want to use in a career, their interests and values. The process includes a vocational career assessment and online resources to research careers ranging from landscaper to pharmacy technician.
“When a career goal is identified, then we look at training,” Silver says. For skilled trades, an apprenticeship may be required. Some young people interested in being a plumber, an electrician or HVAC technician, for example, eventually want to open a business, she explains. Others need to work.
Jewish students choosing a technical or vocational field rather than college “may feel a little pressure. It depends on their family — how open their family is to having kids follow what they want,” Silver says.
Orthodox students who are not continuing their education at a yeshivah may seek counseling to prepare for a career, which usually entails some secular education or training. Orthodox high school graduates who spend a year or more at a yeshivah or another educational institution in Israel may seek career guidance when they return to the U.S., Silver says.
Another option for students is the Oakland Schools Technical Campus (ostconline.com), which provides a combined work-study program that enables Oakland County high school students to explore and gain real-life career experience while still in high school. Elise Kravitz, a junior at North Farmington High School, attended an open house at OSTC to consider career options including visual imaging, culinary careers and emerging engineering technologies.
“There was a table showing how to weld and I got to try it and thought, ‘This is cool,’” she says. Kravitz put on a helmet and gloves. “I loved it because it combines my favorite things — fire and loud noises.”
Kravitz now spends half a day in high school and the balance of her time at the OSTC “learning about welds, proper set-ups and take-downs. Then we go into the lab and go through all the processes,” she explains. There are 13 students in the two-year program; she is the only woman. She has friends in the OSTC programs for computer programming and marketing.
Her grandmother’s hobby is fusing glass, so welding wasn’t totally unfamiliar and Kravitz says her family is encouraging. Recently, she received a high ranking in a regional welding event, qualifying her for a statewide Skills USA welding competition in Grand Rapids.
Kravitz has gone on some college tours. She is considering Washtenaw Community College, which has a leading associate degree welding program. After that, she will consider a four-year apprenticeship with the iron workers union to become a journeyman welder.
Lauren Girson of Southfield took advantage of the OSTC health cluster while attending Groves High School. During eighth grade, she decided on a nursing career and enrolled in the OSTC program to learn more about the field.
“The program gave me a good foundation in nurse assisting and science,” she says and helped her land a co-op job at Beaumont Health-Royal Oak during her senior year. Girson was employed full-time as a nursing assistant in 2016 and is now working on an associate nursing degree at Oakland Community College.
Needing A Break
For high school graduates who want a break before college, there are a variety of organized “gap year” programs that include travel, study and community service in Israel, Europe or other locations.
“The gap year is a way of taking time to get to know themselves,” says Ella Dunajsky, director of college counseling at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield. “They come back academically more prepared with greater self-confidence and they are more well-rounded.”
She says Frankel graduates have traveled in Israel, studied martial arts in China, and worked on environmental conservation and economic development in Thailand. Among Frankel Academy’s 44 seniors, five are planning a gap year. Dunajsky mentions these programs designed for gap-year students:
• Uncollege.com: community service and career development programs worldwide.
• Hevruta.org: a community service and leadership program of the Shalom Hartman Institute.
• Kavunim.org: a one-year group program to travel and study Judaism in multiple locations overseas. College credits are available.
Dunajsky points out that the “gap year” is well-accepted in Europe. In the U.S., she says that Harvard and Tufts Universities offer gap-year programs.