Radnor and Lower Merion, envision the Clairemont Farm and Trades High School

Radnor and Lower Merion, envision the Clairemont Farm and Trades High School

One Lower Merion community member hopes local schools repackage the look at the trades for high school students.



Call it wishful thinking. For 15 years, I have been hoping that local school districts would get creative about offering a re-packaged look at the trades for high school students.

Or at least, that existing programs would allow for technical high school students to study a world language and enroll in courses in the arts and music. That has not been the case.

If nothing else, the COVID-19 related school closings have demonstrated how resilient students are in tele-learning, time management, and self-direction.

This resilience and their flexibility in watching lectures, doing assignments, and ZOOM-ing with their classes are inducing us to look differently not only at conventional school schedules but at the very essence of school itself.

Also, the coronavirus protocols have forced us to look again at the skills gap. With families at home now for weeks, parents and guardians are seeing how their students learn and what they are learning.

Of necessity, at home, young people have been spending time gardening, doing yardwork, cooking, mending, cleaning, building, and contributing other chores, in addition to personal workouts.

This shutdown time might include working on cars, fixing clogged drains, and painting projects. And producing tremendous art and literary projects, even on display in peoples’ yards, with original and quoted poetry posted on trees and poles in towns along the Main Line.

This increased “practical life” day-to-day experience is good for young people, providing a balance to sedentary life staring at a laptop.

This dramatic interruption and suspension of what had been considered routine, due to the essential strictures of the mitigation efforts, gives us all a chance to rethink schools as we know them.

A dozen years ago, I formed a plan to combine the best of the traditional high school curriculum with a half-day technical education program. It has a name, STAC, which stands for Sciences, Trades, Arts, Classics.

This STAC curriculum is based on integrated math-science, integrated arts-history, integrated English-Latin, and training in a trades-based certification program for high school students.

Since mid-March, we, as a nation, have seen that young people can participate in courses, and learn quite well, at any time of the day, not only from 8 am to 3 pm.

In fact, many students benefit from a school schedule which starts later and ends later.

In the title of this article, I refer to the Clairemont Farm and Trades High School. This does not yet exist. It is an aspiration concept for students of Radnor and Lower Merion School Districts.

The taxpayers of Lower Merion own a fantastic property on Montgomery Avenue, the original Clothier Estate, named Clairemont Farm.

The Clothier mansion has been razed, and the other non-historic structures have been demolished, revealing a farm with enormous potential.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, the LMSD plans called for building a conventional third middle school, grades five to eight, based on booming enrollments in the elementary schools.

Given that scenario, I advocate repurposing unused buildings in neighborhoods close to the towns with population density as new elementary schools. Smaller is better.

One, this minimizes bus travel for young children and it promotes walking or biking, and two, it recreates neighborhood and family-based schools, from kindergarten to sixth grade.

Now, take a moment to imagine a local farm school with technical education for high school students. Training in gardening, biology, botany, culinary, surveying, marketing, and entrepreneurial, all are possible.

Now, take a look at the Bennett property on County Line Road, also owned by Lower Merion taxpayers. That gorgeous, well-maintained mansion and its landscaped gardens are adjacent to Stoneleigh. An amazing location and opportunity, diagonal to Villanova University.

Imagine the possibilities for students to take up the trades, for example, plumbing, electrical, paint applications, masonry, carpentry, engineering, landscaping, architecture, all of which are certification programs, with STAC as the backbone.

The proximity to Radnor and Wayne makes this concept ideal for sharing between the two districts, with Radnor families paying tuition through their tax dollars.

Keep in mind that currently Radnor students have to travel to Folcroft or Aston for the technical high schools, while LM and Harriton students must travel to Plymouth Meeting to the Central Montgomery County Technical High School.

Yesterday, when out walking in Narberth, I heard a father say to his two kids, all on bicycles, that they were turning lemons into lemonade. The older child asked what that meant. Her father said that it meant making the best of a difficult situation.

I say, let’s see how we can make high school education better and tackle the skills gap while delivering a top-flight academic education and certification in the trades.

Mary Brown started her teaching career at Harriton High School in 1974, followed by stints at Lower Merion, Radnor, and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. Brown is currently a visiting fellow and adjunct professor in Classics at Saint Joseph’s University and holds a PA Department of Education Administrative Certificate.

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