According to Wikipedia, a Gap Year is: "...also known as a sabbatical year, is a year’s break between high school and college/university, aimed at promoting a mature outlook with which to absorb the benefits of higher education. It also indicates a break before entry into graduate school. Activities range across advanced academic courses, extra-academic courses and non-academic courses, such as pre-college math courses, language studies, learning a trade, art studies, volunteer work, travel, internships, sports and more."
What can a Blue Collar Kid gain from a Gap Year? Isn't that for those who are college bound and wealthy? Well, let's take a look at this for a little different perspective.
Any learner who has just completed 13 years of education could use a break, but in particular, those who are making big life choices could use time to consider possibilities and try new things without the burden of classwork for 6 classes each week. And while many people associate Gap Years with enormous amount of travel and "finding yourself" at a huge cost, that doesn't mean Gap Years can't prove to be helpful to guide a person in setting a new course.
So what might a Gap Year look like for someone headed into the trades or tech? Let's think about that for a moment. Without spending an inordinate amount of money, and with some careful thought and planning, a Gap Year for a Blue Collar bound student could include the following:
1) Job shadowing for several weeks in careers they are interested in exploring. Putting in real time, not merely an hour here or there, on a job site or with a professional in a field of interest allows for situations to arise and questions to be answered, it allows for (in the right setting) trying on the hat of the career if allowed by the company or professional. It gives someone a true understanding of what the work day looks like on a daily basis, and can help narrow down sub-careers in various fields.
2) Volunteering can also be an avenue to career exploration that can be overlooked. Programs such as working on building a house for Habitat for Humanity can help give an overview of a large number of construction careers. Working with the Red Cross can give one a sense of how they would handle emergency situations and put them in contact with a number of emergency personnel.
3) Longer Term Volunteer Programs, such as AmeriCorps, have many year long commitments in the inner city, youth programs, addiction programs, literacy development, and much more. Perhaps checking out a longer term volunteer situation would allow your learner to immerse themselves in something to see if that environment (city versus rural, disaster areas, educational settings, etc.) is their preference for a career.
4) Study what they want, not what they have to do, for an entire year! For our more self-directed kids, the opportunity to read every book they want, to take whatever class they want without having to consider the opportunity to turn it into a career would be a gift of a lifetime! Blue Collar kids have passions and dreams too, and it isn't all about mechanics or plumbing or nursing. The gift of the chance to explore something meaningful without distraction allows for maturing, and also gives time to consider other areas of their lives.
5) Travel can still be part of the equation for lower income families. Have online homeschooling friends with kids about to graduate? How about setting up an exchange? How about offering your graduate a 30 or 45 day USA Rail pass and allow them to plan a trip of their dreams reasonably affordably? Help them learn about hostels to stay in throughout the US, and let them go explore! What they will learn about themselves in the process, as well as feeling an incredible sense of independence will be priceless...and the skills they gain in planning the trip by themselves will also be incredibly valuable.
6) A "Once in a Lifetime" Project Year! How about a year to tear down and rebuild a car? Or build a Tiny House? Or working their way through an entire cook book? Or learning to master a new instrument or create a new work of art on a grand scale? Maybe it is a year to start a short term seasonal small business solely for trial and error learning. The sky's the limit, and as long as the planning, research and work is done by your young adult, the learning will be there. They may need guidance, but can you imagine the amount of learning from tackling something large like this? Furthermore, can you imagine the confidence that would come from success at the end of that year?
I am sure if you put your mind to it, you and your young adult could come up with an awesome experience for a Gap Year, perhaps incorporating several of these ideas!
Most kids aren't quite ready to "figure out their lives" at 18 years old. The options today are mind boggling, even for those not headed to traditional colleges, and it can make it hard to sort if all out, particularly if you are still doing high school work all day and feel pressured to come up with a plan. Some kids need time to mature more as well, for we all have met "young" 18 year olds who are not really ready yet to make big decisions and could use another year to develop more into who they will be. We don't all have the same internal maturation timer, but we seem to have a need culturally for everyone to be ready to move into their adult life in June of the year they graduate!
You also may have a learner who needs to keep plugging away or you may "lose them", making a Gap Year a risk you might not want to take. Each kid is different, and you certainly know your child best! But I hope we have been able to show the value of a Gap Year for some non-college bound students, particularly those who are uncertain about their next steps in life. Blue Collar Kids deserve the same opportunities that college bound kids have, it may just look different!