Above, Long Beach Poly High School students in class. Photo by Jeremiah Jones. This story is part of a collaboration between the Long Beach Post and VoiceWaves.
Next spring Tywanna Moseley will be one of thousands of Long Beach Unified School District seniors graduating from high school having learned mathematical theories and formulas but without being expected to know how to manage her money.
“Driving, paying bills, filing for taxes, money managing are all important parts of life; that’s literally all adults do,” said Moseley, a student at Long Beach Poly High School. “How do they expect us to do all that if they aren’t teaching us but they teach us about quadratic formulas?”
Not offering these life-skill classes is like setting students up for failure, Moseley said.
Poly is not the only high school in the district moving away from offering life-skill classes in favor of mandating college-prep courses.
Those classes that once taught students about paying taxes, balancing a checkbook, applying for a loan or even renting an apartment have recently been on the cutting board. It’s all part of a districtwide effort to center “work-based learning to prepare students for rewarding, high-demand careers,” said LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou via email.
“We have gradually seen fewer of those elective courses over time, based largely upon a lack of student interest,” added Eftychiou. “College preparation and practical, real-world learning experiences are no longer mutually exclusive endeavors.”
In 2014, LBUSD received $7.5 million in grants to pay for career and technical education (CTE) classes that help prepare students to prosper in the future, district officials said. These CTE classes were designed to help students stay in school then move on to college and get high-paying jobs.
These courses essentially get students ready for college, and offering students advanced-placement classes gives them the opportunity to transfer high school credits to universities, but that’s only possible if they pass the AP exams.
Poly now has locked students in mandatory pathways, offering sets of classes based on the colleges or careers students are interested in pursuing. JUSTICE teaches about law and criminal justice, PArts is for students who are interested in entertainment, MEDs teaches students about the medical field, and so on.
Eftychiou said “life skills have been incorporated into other instruction and pathways.” At some schools, they offer a culinary arts and hospitality pathway that allows students to apply the skills they learn in these classes to the real world.
“We used to have … actual career and guidance classes but the board took them away,” said Ryan Temple, a counselor in Poly’s BEACH pathway, the school’s math and science curriculum for students.
Temple said that if a certain course has nothing to do with pathways then counselors aren’t allowed to offer it.
Now, the only life-skill class offered to students at Poly is autoshop, while at Cabrillo High School it’s driver’s education. Students at Lakewood High School had their last two life-skill classes (driver’s education and autoshop) cut, as well.
“I think it’s a little unfair. We needed those classes,” said Lakewood senior Cibria Pierre. “They push college on us so much, but some of us don’t wanna’ go, and it’d be nice to be taught about the workforce or something other than just college.”
Not every student believes that college is the only option. Some point to the fact that there are other well-paying jobs available that do not require degrees. There is a growing demand in the transportation industry, with up to 68 percent more available jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Trade school is also less costly than going to a four-year university as college graduates walk away with almost $40,000 in debt, according to studentloanhero.com.
Eftychiou pointed out that the Long Beach College Promise was expanded in 2014 to “include an emphasis on internships,” and that USA Today has recognized the work-based instruction at Cabrillo, Poly and the California Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMS).
Although the curriculum now centers around college-based courses, Poly PArts counselor Charles Acosta said “[life] classes are huge and important, but the school district doesn’t view them as having value. I think everyone would benefit from knowing how to do life skills.”
While school district officials have no plans to bring these courses back due to “lack of student interest” some students like Cabrillo senior Shamarriah Harris said they can not rely on their parents when students spend the majority of their time at school. And, regardless, if some students are not interested, she is.
“In a couple months they’re gonna’ send us off into the world to be adults and I know nothing about adulting,” said Harris.