MASSACHUSETTS, HOME TO SOME OF THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION, has also been a leader for decades in the delivery of career and technical education (CTE). Across the state of 351 cities and towns, there are 26 regional CTE school districts and dozens more technical wings in comprehensive high schools. CTE institutions such as Blue Hills Regional Technical School, located in Canton, take students from grades nine through 12 and attract students from the towns in their district. They offer complete academic course offerings, along with sports and other extracurricular activities. A state-approved admissions policy keeps the process fair and equitable; but for the last decade, double the available spots have been applied for with only about 230 freshmen accepted each year from approximately 14 sending public and private middle schools.
Students decide to come to Blue Hills for a number of factors such as having a family member as a graduate or a relative working in one of our technical areas. Some may apply because they think the school's schedule will result in 50 percent less academic class work. (This is hardly so because of the embedded academics required by Massachusetts' State Vocational Frameworks.) Others come to Blue Hills because it offers them a sense of belonging--something they often won't get when they are herded through academic high schools. They are bombarded for four years with the message that it is expected that everyone will go to college--the one-size-fits-all approach. But at Blue Hills students get a more personal approach. The decision making is supported by information to digest using career ladders, tech prep and U.S. Department of Labor statistics, along with hands-on activities. If you're a high school student and NASCAR is something you like outside of school, preparing a biographical presentation of your favorite driver, building a mock-up of a race track, rebuilding a high performance engine, or welding a frame together and going to a raceway with your class to try out the class project is certainly more exciting than regurgitating abstract information.
Blue Hills has a buffet style offering of 14 programs during the exploratory freshman year. The first half of the semester is spent exploring all programs; students then concentrate on eight and select a major to pursue in the second semester. Fifty percent of a student's time is spent in the technical labs using a "week about" system, and the other half is spent studying academics. The school offers interdisciplinary activities so students see the need for reading, writing and math, and many of the academic concepts found in technical labs emphasize what they have been learning in the classroom.
These experiences and relationships they develop in the labs play a big role in students' success. And when they graduate from Blue Hills, they do so with a dual education: All state requirements are met for a high school diploma, and they receive competency recognition for their technical achievement. …