Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffery C. Riley Speaks on Importance of Vocational Education Opportunities for Students
LAWRENCE — Administrators and educators from throughout the Commonwealth gathered at Greater Lawrence Tech this September to learn more about a new programming initiative that’s allowing more students to access vocational education opportunities, and prepare for high-paying, in-demand careers after graduation.
The forum, held at GLTS on Monday, Sept. 16, featured the school’s “after dark” Machine Tool Technology/Advanced Manufacturing and HVAC programs. In addition to administrators and educators, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley attended and spoke at the event, along with several members of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Last school year, GLTS launched a pilot “after dark” program through which 21 juniors from Lawrence High School had the opportunity to take their core academic courses at Lawrence High from 11 a.m. to approximately 2 p.m., and then travel to GLTS, where they took Machine Tool Technology/Advanced Manufacturing courses from 2:30-5:30 p.m.
The two-year program allows students in their junior and senior years to earn a certificate in competency in Advanced Manufacturing . This school year, Greater Lawrence Tech also launched its second, two-year “after dark” program in HVAC.
The “after dark” programs allow more students to access vocational programming, which is in high demand throughout the state. Approximately 1,000 students apply to GLTS annually, with about 400 being accepted.
“For us, as it is with many of our vocational sister schools, we have more students apply each year than we have seats for,” Superintendent John Lavoie said. “We felt we had a responsibility, particularly to inner city students, to provide the opportunity for them to learn skills in a life changing career. We have found this program is far exceeding our expectations. Students are really excited and embrace the opportunity.”
Funding for the Greater Lawrence Tech pilot programs was provided by the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation, as well as the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. As a result of the success of the Greater Lawrence Tech program, additional grant funding has been made available by the state to support planning and pilot two-year “after dark” vocational programs at schools throughout Massachusetts, with the potential for schools to receive annual funding in the future.
“Kids report over and over being disengaged, where that does not hold true with kids in vocational schools because they can see the real world every day,” Commissioner Riley said. “More and more kids want to be in it, but we don’t necessarily have the capacity. Many students didn’t know they wanted to take vocational education or didn’t get in. What this allowed them to do is get a second bite at the apple. It worked out really well. This is a model that could be a way to open more seats across the Commonwealth.”
Essex Tech launched a similar program last school year, which allowed students from Gloucester High School to take half of their courses at Gloucester High before being transported by bus to Essex Tech to learn landscaping, masonry and carpentry skills. This school year, Essex Tech expanded that program to allow Salem and Peabody Public School students to participate in an Advanced Manufacturing program or a Construction and Craft Laborer program. Essex Tech has partnered closely with the Construction and Crafts Laborers Union Local 22 to make the Construction and Craft Laborer program a reality.
“Essex Tech is excited to expand vocational offerings to Peabody and Salem,” said Essex Tech Superintendent Heidi Riccio. “I am happy to welcome students to our campus who may have been put on a waitlist or realized later on that they wanted to develop strong technical skills that can take them into high paying careers upon completion. This program is exactly what the North Shore needs as we address the skills gap, workforce needs, and expansion efforts of vocational education.”
Students from both the Greater Lawrence Tech and Essex Tech programs shared their experiences at Monday’s forum.
“When we had a meeting last year at Lawrence High, I wasn’t really focused on what I wanted to do after high school, but when they talked about this, it was something I could do after high school,” said Rafael Paulino, a senior at Lawrence High who is taking part in the Advanced Manufacturing program at Greater Lawrence Tech. “It just hit me like a truck, and it makes me want to go into engineering.”
“This program is going to be helpful for me, it’s going to be better for my future,” said Emerson Gomez, a Salem High School junior participating in Essex Tech’s Construction and Craft Laborer program. “My parents wanted me to do it, and said it was going to be better for my family and a better experience for me.”
“I said to myself, I need to go to college, but didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Darwin Belliard, a Lawrence High senior taking part in the Advanced Manufacturing program at Greater Lawrence Tech. “Now I have decided: I want to go to college, and I want to study mechanical engineering. This course helped me make that decision.”
The Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation was founded in 1970 by Richard and Susan Smith, and awards approximately $14 million in grants each year to support positive changes in the Greater Boston area in fields including health, education and economic mobility.