Magazine article Techniques

A New School Keeping the Promise of Career and Technical Education

Magazine article Techniques

A New School Keeping the Promise of Career and Technical Education

Article excerpt


WHEN WORCESTER MASSACHUSETTS, opened the Worcester Trade School-one of the first vocational high schools in the country-in the early 1900s, it marked an important change in public education. Today the need for skilled workers is still industry driven, and the demand for highly trained and well-educated graduates is being answered once again by Worcester's newest and most innovative school, Worcester Technical High School.

The old Worcester Trade School opened with 50 students, and became overcrowded in just five years. Local industrialists, knowing the value of such training, poured thousands into the building of two more schools, which were eventually merged into the Worcester Public School System as the Worcester Vocational High School. Once again there was incredible growth within the school spurring the need for expansion.

History Repeats Itself

"The Worcester Vocational High School is an invaluable educational and economic development engine for our city and region," said then Worcester Mayor Timothy Murray early in the campaign for a new school. "The entire community must come together to ensure this continues for the next 100 years by building a new state-of-the-art facility."

And so they did. In 1997, the physical condition of the school prompted a vote to build a new career and technical school with the support of educators, industry leaders, elected officials and the community at large. In Worcester tradition, the project was funded with help from local industrialists with the foresight and appreciation of what the skilled worker would provide in the future. Edwin B. (Ted) Coghlin, Jr. chairman of the Worcester Vocational Schools Advisory Board, president of the Skyline Technical Fund and owner of Coghlin Electrical Contractors Inc., was one of the city's biggest advocates for construction of a new high school.

"Technology and training needs by area companies demand that our students-their future employees-have the best training using the most advanced technology available," Coghlin told the Worcester Business Journal. "Our students deserve the best so we can help them become the best for their future and ours."

Along with the generous support of local businessmen such as Coghlin, there was also private fund raising, and the city contributed six million dollars matched nine-to-one by state and federal funds.

Breaking New Ground

Ground was broken for Worcester Tech on June 10, 2002. The construction plans boasted a state-of-the-art, 400,000-square-foot building with more than 100 classrooms, 24 learning centers, numerous shops, support areas, retail stores, restaurants, a fully operational bank, automotive repair and collision service areas, a health clinic, and meeting and tourism facilities. The new facility would house f ,500 daytime students and more than 3,000 after-hours students, providing the best in career and technical education.

The planning for the new school that began almost two decades ago with the merging of the independent technical schools with the public school system was solidified with the support of local businesses and community members, and articulation agreements with such schools as Becker College, Johnson & Wales University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the University of Massachusetts, New England Institute of Technology, and Quinsigamond Community College.

"The school is based on a cluster academy model, in which 24 different occupations are divided into four distinct career clusters," says Peter Crafts, director of vocational and technical education for Worcester Public Schools. "The four academies are Allied Health and Human Services, Alden Design and Engineering Technology, Coghlin Construction Technologies, and Cisco/Dell Information Technology and Business Management Services. The four disciplines each make up their own "school" in the main building, with each having their own academic courses, administration, support personnel and teachers. Students have the same group of teachers from 10th through 12th grade. Ninth-grade students complete an exploratory schedule that exposes them to the academy's different cluster academies and take assessment testing to help determine which academy is right for them."

Although the cluster academy model is not new to career and technical education in Massachusetts, it has proved to be successful. Lexington's Minuteman Regional High School has utilized the academy model based on teams of academic and career and technical education teachers implementing an integrated science and competency-based curriculum for many years.

"The New England School Development Council studied schools throughout the country that have academies and clusters," notes Crafts. "They have taken their best parts into the planning of the new school so both the educational plan and the building incorporate the applied career cluster philosophy."

The Four Academies

The four-academy structure of Worcester Tech is in keeping with the terms of a grant from Carnegie Foundation's Schools for a New Society Initiative that funds the Worcester Education Partnership. Strong relationships are built among faculty, advisers and students, as they remain together through graduation. This continuity allows for close monitoring of students' progress, ensuring success during and after high school. All four academies recreate real-world conditions allowing students to experience both the manufacturing and customer-service levels of their chosen careers.

Building A: Cisco/Dell Information Technology and Business Management Services Academy

The Cisco A+ Academy is housed in the Cisco/Dell Systems Building, where training is offered in graphic communications, office technology, culinary arts, hotel/restaurant management, tourism, finance and marketing, and telecommunications.

IT students will use gowning, washing and clean rooms similar to those found in such big corporations as Intel, where a sterile environment is necessary in the manufacturing of silicon chips or other sensitive components. Although filtered to less than the industry standard of one-half a micron, the rooms' standard is enough to practice protocol, and gives students the feel for what is entailed in this area of production.

Office technology operates a help desk, sending students out on job tickets to train and install software and SMART Board technology throughout the school. Telecommunications students work on cutting-edge VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). The main distribution facility is the hub of Worcester Tech's digital network, and a complete replication of the server, including identical data, gives students hands-on experience and the feel of working on the actual online server.

The Cisco A+ Academy also has a room filled with computer workstations containing diagnostic and repair equipment to be used along with computers donated by Intel. Intel's generosity allows students to put their lessons to work, and then once the computers have been repaired, they are given to nonprofit organizations. In addition to the valuable support from Intel, Dell has provided comprehensive online professional development for staff and virtual learning modules for students.

Another popular department housed in the Dell/Cisco Systems Building is culinary arts. This program is enhanced by the four separate kitchens equipped with computer-controlled refrigerators and ovens, grills, deep fryers and a 550-seat student cafeteria. Students not only prepare meals for the cafeteria and conference hall events, but also prepare lunches for the city's elementary schools with no kitchen facilities. Baked goods are prepared in the bakeshop's demonstration classrooms. Visiting chefs lend their expertise, and the visits are recorded by the media department then made available for airing on local television.

The students operate a 120-seat restaurant, The Skyline Bistro. It is open to the public during the school year, offering an ever-changing ala carte menu, and is so popular that reservations are recommended. The aquaculture area of environmental technology even raises fish such as tilapia and trout for the public restaurant. From setting the table and preparing food for one to hosting hundreds in the school's conference rooms, students graduating from this program are well equipped to pursue careers in hotel and restaurant management and culinary arts.

Also housed in this building is graphic communications, which in partnership with Océ Digital Corporation provides full-service printing for nonprofit organizations, schools and the City of Worcester as part of the curriculum.

Building B: The Allied Health and Human Services Academy

Offering training in environmental and biotechnology, and health and life sciences education, Worcester Tech's Allied Health and Human Services Academy is the doorway for burgeoning medical, nursing, pharmacy and rehab assistants; cosmetologists; veterinary tech assistants; early childhood educators; environmental and biotechnical technologists; and more.

The health and life sciences area replicates a typical doctor's office with an actual waiting room complete with service window. There are hospital beds where students can practice their bedside manner, diagnosing or treating patients, along with taking vitals using the latest medical equipment and monitoring devices. The Worcester Tech Allied Health and Human Services Academy is one answer to how the medical field is going to fill the growing demand for highly skilled technicians and assistants.

The early childhood (EC) training area offers a real hands-on experience with its colorful childcare center. The area can accommodate up to 40 toddlers, and students are afforded the opportunity to get a taste of what caring for very young children is really all about.

"Through the Worcester Public Schools, which operates many child care centers in the city, residents of Worcester make application each year for the different sites," says Crafts. "Ours is the only technical training center, so the children get many opportunities here, because the EC students allow the student-teacher-to-child ratio to be nearly one to one."

Building C: The Coghlin Construction Technologies Academy

"I love to see young people reach their full potential. There are some fantastic young people who come through this school and achieve just unbelievable results," Coghlin told local newspapers. Coghlin's enthusiasm and support for the new Worcester Technical High School, along with so many other local business supporters, can be found throughout the halls and classrooms of this amazing facility.

This is the academy for students training in carpentry; HVACR; plumbing, pipefitting, and sheet metal work; electrical and welding; and interior design and finishes. All of these trades have use of the expansive workshops filled with state-of-the-art equipment (i.e. drill presses, robotic line equipment). Work areas have been constructed to allow students the real-life experience in the numerous installations and repair situations that may arise on the job. There was also much input from other local businesses such as Curtis Industries LLC, for which the Curtis Welding Shop is named.

Unique to this academy is the Great Trades Hall where the integration of all the trades may take place. As is true in real-world construction, trades must work together to see a project come to fruition. Here students learn how each trade is integral to the completion of a project, and how to accommodate the timelines for each stage of construction.

Building D: The Alden Design and Engineering Academy

This academy is named in honor of George L. Alden, a fervent supporter of career and technical education in Worcester. His 1912 will directed that the George Alden Trust continue to provide area students with the materials needed for training, and continues to do so today. The academy offers courses in machine tool technology, electro/mechanical technology, welding, metal technology, drafting and auto CAD, and auto collision technology.

Students may train on an array of state-of-the-art robot-aided welding, drill press and machining tools. There are also 16 lift bays for diagnosing and repairing automobiles. The CAD and CAM departments are filled with students studying drafting and design, working with computers and software for computer numerical control or computer-driven automated machining tools. The engineering, machine and robotics departments also headquarter the New England Office and Training Center for U.S. FIRST Robotics.

CTE at Work

There is no stronger proof for what career and technical education provides than in the building of Worcester Technical High School. Many of the hundreds of workers on this colossal project were graduates of the old Worcester Vocational High School and other career and technical schools throughout New England.

"There were more than 500 construction people working for 20 different subcontractors over three years. We collected data from each employee's record when they took the safety course before starting to work on the site, and it showed that over 60 percent of the workers graduated from a vocational or technical school within New England," says Crafts. "The foreman of the plumbing contractor and four of his key journeyman were our graduates; five electrical journeymen were our graduates; the foreman was from another vocational high school program.

"Carpenters, painters, sheet metal and HVAC had about two graduates each. There were a few drafting graduates who also worked for subcontractors providing print support to the field. Many of the companies that installed our shop equipment and furniture also had graduates from the old school. The general contractor is developing a list so that we can record the names within the school of all who worked on this 'shrine' to the construction industry and model for technology education. Hopefully, we will have the complete list by the end of this year."

Crafts also notes that the complex was built to specification, completed four months ahead of schedule and on budget "When have you ever heard that said about a 400,000-square-foot school that went through the public bidding process for construction?" he asks. "The general contractors and all the subcontractors sincerely felt that they all were building an educational complex to enhance their trades, and the finished product demonstrates their demand for quality."

In 1999, Crafts spoke with Techniques about Worcester Technical High School when it was just in the planning stages. He was asked, "Any advice to systems wanting to create their own career academies?" Here is how he answered:

"If you're going to start one from scratch, we would suggest as your first step, to do an employee assessment with your local chamber of commerce to see what the current jobs are in your community and where career growth will be in the future. You then compare your numbers with standards and statistics by the Department of Labor and the Department of Education."

Crafts also suggested, "An industry advisory committee representing each technical area is critical to ensure that the planning, curriculum and equipment will meet the technical and academic competencies of the industries. Then, check the demographics of your student base-their previous education, where they're coming from. In our case, this was easy, since we are in a city school system and know where all our students are coming from. It can be harder for a regional school, in which students come from several different districts and backgrounds."

After following its progress for years, we are happy to report on the successful opening of this innovative school. The Worcester area and its industries continue to grow, and local, national and international businesses have invested heavily into the Worchester Technical High School in the hopes that its graduates will fill their future employment needs. The Skyline Technical Fund has been formed as the vehicle to work with industry, business and foundations and to be the conduit for partnerships for equipment, professional development and donations. The entire Worcester community has come together to embrace what Worcester Tech truly stands forkeeping the promise of a brighter future for all students who cross its threshold.

To learn more about the career academy structure, purchase ACTE's Webcast on the wall-to-wall career academy at Seneca Valley High School. Go to for more details.

[Author Affiliation]

Hope J. Gibbs

is a Techniques contributing writer. She can be contacted at

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