As President Barack Obama plans to promote initiatives targeted to the middle class during his State of the Union address, the spotlight may fall on one Los Angeles teacher who embodies his belief that technical skills are necessary to be competitive in today’s job market.
Katrice Mubiru, a career and technical education teacher, traveled Tuesday to Washington, D.C., as one of 22 guests invited by first lady Michelle Obama. They represent working Americans who would benefit from Obama’s proposals to expand paid family leave, make community college free and raise taxes on the wealthy.
Mubiru had written to Obama in 2012, expressing concerns that the adult technical education program where she taught, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, was in danger of closing. The program helps adults learn technical skills to get jobs in fields like physical and sports therapy.
She wrote specifically about a stay-at-home mom who couldn’t afford the $300 fees to take Mubiru’s class, but who needed to find work because her husband had been laid off from his job. The letter struck a chord with Obama aides.
“I think they really liked the personal stories,” she told StateScoop. “It was a very simple story about a real person who represents Americans today. At that time, a lot of people were losing their jobs, and there were layoffs left and right. I was one of them.”
Amid the cuts to her program, Mubiru, 41, was briefly out of work teaching physical therapy – but she managed to get her job back when it reopened.
“It’s always in crisis, because the funding is not protected,” she said, adding that elected officials would rather direct money toward K-12 schools than career and technical training for teens and adults.
“We also help parents of those children in K-12,” Mubiru said, adding that English-language services are available. “We have a unique purpose, we just want to make sure it’s recognized.”
Obama has long promoted career and technical education, visiting the innovative Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn, New York, in 2013. There, he pushed teachers and administrators to outfit kids with the tools they needed to succeed in a high-tech society.
He also included a technical training fund in his community college proposal, announced earlier this month, which would create about 100 centers at schools to help students learn skills for energy, IT and manufacturing jobs.
As a CTE teacher, Mubiru, a married mother of four children, said she teaches students how to use equipment for electrotherapy and electrical nerve stimulation.
“We have a lot of technical equipment that we use,” she said, adding that the training helps people develop new skills for badly needed jobs.
“As the aging population is growing older, there is more job demand in physical therapy and health care,” she said.
Before the speech Tuesday night, she was invited to speak with officials at the Department of Education about her experiences, and she took in the sights with her 19-year-old daughter, Ashley. It was Mubiru’s first visit to the nation’s capital.
“I’m just very excited to be in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “It’s a privilege and pleasure to just be here.”