Today, more and more students are opting for a high school experience that includes a career pathway, and as a result, many technical and comprehensive high schools in the state are finding their career/vocational technical education program (or CVTE) programs at capacity.
The City of Worcester is proactively addressing this growing need by expanding capacity at both South High Community School, now under construction, and Doherty Memorial High School, which is still at the feasibility study stage. At Doherty, roughly one quarter of the student population is enrolled in a CTVE program, known in Massachusetts as a Chapter 74 program. With a plan in place to add three more programs at the new school, their numbers are likely to double.
No longer seen as an alternative to a college preparatory pathway, CVTE programs allow for vocational or technical training integrated with high academic standards that prepare students for any number of next steps: two- or four-year college, internships, apprenticeships and other work-based learning, or full-time paid employment. Given the rigorous academic standards and the hands-on, industry-specific learning, it is no wonder CVTE programs are growing in popularity across the entire spectrum of high school students.
Doherty’s popular Engineering and Technology program is currently the only Chapter 74 program operating at the school, but last month the Worcester School Committee approved the proposal to add three new programs: Programming and Web Design, Marketing Management and Finance, and Construction Craft Laborer.
Excitement about the potential of creating more career pathway opportunities for students has been expressed by the community, school committee, staff and administrators, and of course, student interest is a key driver of program offerings.
“Since May we have been meeting every single Monday for two to four hours at LPA|A to work out what the educational program has to be,” said Superintendent Maureen Binienda. “I think that what we have come up with is an excellent program and these Chapter 74 programs are going to offer opportunities for so many students.”
Among the many opportunities presented by the design and construction of a new school is the ability to create spaces that can accommodate a new or emerging need. The new South High Community School will have space specifically designed to accommodate the Chapter 74 programs already operating in the school: Diesel Technology, Culinary Arts, and Early Education and Care, in addition to Automotive Technology and a Marketing /Nonprofit Management Career Pathway program, which operates Andy’s Attic, a nonprofit clothing distribution program. These programs have expanded and changed over time, making the most of the space available but hindered by the limitations of a building that was not designed for contemporary industry and program needs.
In the case of Doherty’s efforts to add new programs, the district made sure that the proposed offerings were in alignment with the opportunities and needs identified in the Central MA Regional Blueprint for 2018-2022, developed by the Central Massachusetts and North Central Massachusetts Workforce Investment Boards. The State’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will ultimately make the determination whether the programs are approved under Chapter 74, taking into consideration the needs of the region and student demand.
The expansion of Chapter 74 programs broadly helps the district meet a key objective in their strategic plan: “Expand career learning opportunities for students by scaling existing pathways and developing new initiatives in partnership with business and community organizations.”
The needs of industry change as technology changes and as the job market evolves over time. Keeping up with those changes so that students graduate with in-demand skills, prepared to either enter the workforce or further their education, is critical. Spaces designed for a particular program may need to be adapted as one program is phased out and another comes online.
Worcester Technical High School, designed by LPA|A more than a decade ago, has already had to reassign and adapt space to keep up with changes in the job market. The school has been working with LPA|A again recently to revisit their master plan in an effort to stay ahead of industry trends. The school utilizes industry advisory boards to stay at the leading edge of the current and projected job market.
At Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg, a regional demand for a veterinary sciences program drove the school’s decision to build a new vet tech clinic on the grounds of the school. They asked LPA|A to design a facility that the students in their house carpentry and other building trades could build as their class project. This project was a rare case where even as the facility was being constructed, it was preparing students for career pathways into in-demand jobs.