Tech Campus serves students interested in a trade. But it can be a tough sell in a community like LFHS.

Image courtesy of Lake County Tech Campus

Tech Campus serves students interested in a trade. But it can be a “tough sell” in a community like LFHS.

Tech Campus: LFHS’s Little-Known Companion Program

What is the Tech Campus? Why do some students attend it and some don’t? And why haven’t you heard of it before?

May 14, 2021

Every school day, like clockwork, a bus full of LFHS students departs from East Campus at 7:45 a.m. It returns at 10:50 a.m., the students get off and join their peers for the remainder of the day. Few people at LFHS — excepting the 17 students who take this bus every day — know where it goes. 

No, this bus is not a part of a mysterious conspiracy or an example of special treatment for a select group of students, but it ferries students between LFHS and the Lake County Tech Campus in Grayslake, a program accessible to almost every public high school student in the county. 

In a community with such pressure to take the traditional college route, what is the appeal of a trade-focused program, what are its drawbacks, and why is the Tech Campus so underutilized by LFHS students?

“The Tech Campus can be a hard sell”

In a school system where the most common outcome is 4-year college, Harmsen conceded that the goals of the program don’t always align with the goals of students and their parents. The Tech Campus may not be as fruitful an experience for students applying to more selective institutions because it forces them to take fewer courses in core subjects. 

“I feel like students sometimes think that it’s not so good for college applications, and sometimes it’s not.” Harmsen said. 

Stetson said she advises against the Tech Campus in some cases because “some of the most popular college majors that my students tell me they’re interested, like business, engineering, and medicine, are fields that the programs at Tech Campus may not relate to.”

The Tech Campus might also be a poor fit for some students because it takes them away from a large piece of the day-to-day LFHS experience. “The Tech Campus can be a hard sell, even for students for whom the program is really appropriate, because they’re missing out on a large chunk of their day at Lake Forest High School,” Stetson said. 

She also added that the 7:45 a.m. departure time is unappealing for students, especially now that every day starts at 9 a.m.

“It’s okay to try it”

The Tech Campus offers a variety of immersive programs for career preparation, from automotive collision repair to construction management.

On the other hand, according to LFHS counselors, the Tech Campus might be a good fit for more students than it currently serves for a few reasons. First, the Tech Campus opportunities may be relevant for some college-bound students.

“The idea of Tech Campus is to get kids a certification to be employable, but not all of our students go directly into the workforce,” said Stetson. “Some students do go to college and just use the Tech Campus as experience towards a career that requires more education…it’s often a unique experience that colleges appreciate.”

Senior Payton Marzella falls into this camp.

“I have benefited from the Tech Campus because, for two hours every day, I’ve been able to jump-start my nursing career,” said Marzella. “I plan to attend the College of Nursing at Marquette University and this nursing assistant class has jump-started my learning and career.”

Harmsen also touted the Tech Campus as an engine for discovery, saying, “Some students come into Lake Forest High School knowing, ‘I want to go to this college.’ For those who don’t know what their future plans may be, the Tech Campus might be recommended to see if they like it or not…getting this experience will help them make a career decision.”

Stetson clarified that your commitment to a program at the Tech Campus is not irreversibly binding, “It’s okay to try it. You’re not stuck there.”

The Tech Campus offers a much different learning experience than LFHS does. Stetson said that its offerings can be beneficial for “kids who don’t love everything about the high school. The traditional, sitting-at-a-desk-for-eight-hours school environment isn’t for them. This hands-on learning is a relief for those students. The skills of these students often lend themselves better to a trade.” 

LFHS Counselor David Brandes said of the choice to attend the Tech Campus made by these students, “This allows them to enter the job market faster and at a higher level or salary than with only a high school diploma.”

Stetson emphasized another selling point, “The Tech Campus is really diverse. It’s bringing in kids from all over the County, so that can be appealing to students. It just feels different than our little Lake Forest bubble, and it’s probably refreshing to some extent.”

According to data obtained by The Forest Scout, the Tech Campus is 43% Hispanic, 41% White, 10% Black, and multiple other racial/ethnic backgrounds comprise the remaining 6%.

“It feels foreign”

Stetson and Harmsen agreed that communication was the primary limiting factor affecting the program’s adoption among LFHS students. They said that most students discover the Tech Campus through word of mouth, and that, for students who haven’t been properly informed of the program’s offerings, “it feels foreign.”

In the future, Stetson and Harmsen would like to offer more resources to educate students about the Tech Campus on Naviance, in classrooms, and in emails. They recommend that interested students attend Tech Campus open houses and the field trip to the Grayslake Campus that LFHS hosts most years. 

Senior Kelly Sheridan hopes students will be better exposed to the Tech Campus in coming years too. “It’s disappointing how little Tech Campus is promoted by LFHS. I think there is like one small email that is sent out that mentions Tech Campus, and that’s about it. It would be nice if students knew that Tech Campus is an option because there are so many students that don’t know it exists, but would probably really benefit from going.” she said.

“The right fit for me”

Current LFHS students enrolled at the Tech Campus, including Sheridan, gave the program glowing reviews. 

“I would want the Lake Forest community to know that to look into it because they have pretty much every career there,” said senior Yasmin Reyes. “You are also ahead of the game and these are classes you are going to be interested in and enjoy. Tech Campus is something I definitely recommend for anyone!”

“Enrolling at the Tech Campus was the right fit for me because it has allowed me to put what I am passionate about into real-life experiences,” said Marzella. “I learned hundreds of new skills, ranging from how to take vital signs to communicating with others, and perform them in lab. I even got to attend clinicals at Libertyville Manor Nursing Home and practice with real residents.”

“I am so grateful for the experiences I’ve had and connections I’ve made because of Tech Campus. I love having a class that is more hands-on.” Sheridan said, “The skills you can learn at Tech Campus are invaluable.”

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    Nicholas WinebrennerMay 17, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Amazing reporting Will. Very well done.