Dunbar Vocational High School Bounces Back As Trades Training Hub
by Kai EL’ Zabar
Starting this fall, Dunbar Vocational high school with a student body that’s 97 percent African-American will be known as the “Construction Trades Campus at Dunbar.” Trade courses for electricians, plummers, carpenters and pipe-fitters will be offered the beginning of this new school year.
It seems that the Baby Boomers are aging and the demand for their replacement has forced the need for Dunbar to return to its World War II roots — by preparing students for lucrative jobs in the construction trades. Currently many have been asked to stay on because there are no skilled replacements.
The idea is that the move will prepare students for a future that promises employment and in doing so provide an alternative to gangs. The people behind this reinstatement of what Dunbar once was the illustrious school where so many successful Blacks graduated from believe that it will provide a pathway for students to receive education and skills training required to becomes employable citizens earning fair wages in the construction industry, which are in high demand. Behind this plan are Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Congressman Bobby Rush, community, labor and faith leaders.
“If you graduate from high school and you have a tomorrow you’re thinking about, you’re not going to do something stupid today. If you’re in a gang, a lot of these kids don’t think they’re going to live to 24. A skill, an education, a training, gives you a tomorrow to live for,” Emanuel shared with community leaders and media representatives..
“The biggest piece of confronting violence is providing people opportunity and hope and having the trades in the schools will allow you to do that. . . . It’s not just the trades. If you want to run your own plumbing business. If you want to run your own home business in the sense of fix-up, you’ll have the skill set here to do that.”
Courses that instruct students in a business management acumen will be taught for those who may one day wish to actually join the management team or even own and operate their own businesses. Most significantly is that the trades that will be taught were once closed to minorities: general construction, carpentry, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, welding and electricity.
The new Dunbar curriculum was developed with building trades experts specifically to align student leaning with industry demands
The first-year program will serve up to 120 students of the 678 student body with a “dual cohort model” specially designed to serve current Dunbar students and applicants from across the city. The citywide application will give “preference” to students in the surrounding community, officials said. How financially troubled Chicago Public Schools will finance the program has not been released.
However partnerships with ComEd, McCormick Place construction firms and trade unions — including the Regional Council of Carpenters, IBEW Local 134, the Laborers’ District Council and Pipefitters Local 597 — will ensure that students are “exposed to professional practices,” said officials.
“The Construction Trades Campus at Dunbar will offer an intensive, two-year option for students from schools throughout the city to attend daily classes that will provide them access to the construction trade industry and the requisite skills to pursue paths such as apprenticeships, post-secondary education, certification programs or a living-wage job,” according to a press release issued by the mayor’s office.
Congressman Rush was clear that, the departure of labor unions from Chicago was a major loss to the Black community, Washburne Trade School. He said, ‘Since the unions moved to the suburbs, we’ve seen some of the results in our neighborhoods even today. That resulted, in part, from the fact that trades were no longer in Chicago.”
Rush noted that Dunbar High School stands at the center of a building boom that includes a new DePaul basketball arena, the Obama presidential library and possible construction of the Lucas Museum on a site that now includes Lakeside Center along with a McCormick Place expansion to replace that demolished convention space. To that point Mayor Rahm Emanuel, reminded us that it is important that Chicago move forward with the Lucas Museum and its significance in helping Chicago reclaim its status as thriving robust city and contributing to its overall well being.
“You have this high school in the midst of all this where students are preparing for their future and how that future would have in it so much hope if they have the requisite skills in the trades that will give them a better opportunity for employment,” Rush said.
Rush made it clear that all this will create small businesses which can turn the ailing community around. “We don’t want every graduate of this program to just be an employee. We can see plumbing businesses coming out of this program and carpentry businesses and welding businesses. The list is endless,” Rush said.
Dunbar focused on the construction trades when it opened during World War II. It currently offers an array of career and technical education offerings And is known for its list of successful alumni including Chicago’s first elected Black Mayor, Harold Washington.