THE ISSUE: In his January State of the Union address, President Donald Trump said, “Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.” In Massachusetts, there already are great vocational schools, educating hundreds of students in myriad high tech and other disciplines.
THE IMPACT: How have local tech schools evolved to meet the changing needs of the Bay State workforce and what plans are there for further change in the years to come?
Forget the misconceptions you have about vocational technical school. Everything you think you know is wrong, at least in Massachusetts.
Across the state, there are 28 regional vocational technical high schools, like Minuteman High School, that bring more than just trade education to students. This system of stand-alone vocational technical high schools is unique to Massachusetts, one of eight or 10 states that have this model of schooling.
"When the president talks about high-quality vocational technical education, Massachusetts is considered the Cadillac of vocational technical education," said Minuteman Superintendent Ed Bouquillon. "Most other states have a long way to go, even to get close to how we deliver vocational technical education in this state."
In his 2018 State of the Union address, President Donald Trump said called for the opening of "great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.”
In addition to providing a high school education, vocational technical schools are required by law to create programs in response to the workforce demands in the region. In Massachusetts, that means rising to the demands for engineers, medical and health professionals and biotechnology workers.
Students enter Minuteman High School as freshmen and select a vocational program that they will follow throughout their four years of schooling. To find the program that best fits each student, they answer two questions: What do you love? What do you do well?
"If you're able to answer those questions, you're going to understand your world of work at a deeper level and if you know what you love to do and you know what you do well and you find a job in that, or a career or a college major, you're gonna be a much happier person and you're going to have more economic opportunity," said Bouquillon.
Students at Minuteman are applying the skills they learn in math, science and physics to their craft, making these cornerstones of traditional education more accessible and easier to understand.
"When you're hearing academics taught in the context of how it's applied in the real world, you can learn it better," said Bouquillon. "You can learn higher level math at just a deeper level if it's connected to something you like."
High schools traditionally measure success based on graduation and attendance rates as well as students' GPAs and MCAS scores. While Minuteman does the same, they also measure their success on students' economic opportunity and ability to gain Industry-Recognized Credentials (IRC).
These IRCs include first aid, CPR and emergency medical technician licenses that Allied Health Program students can receive, as well as waste water treatment operators licenses and fresh water management licenses that Environmental Technology students can obtain.
The credentials are necessary to work in the field students have been studying for four years, and they get them in high school.
Minuteman also tracks where their students are one, three and now five years after graduation. This is similar to how colleges track their graduates.
"We want to know where our kids go and where they are and when they're starting to make a living," said Bouquillon. "Have we done what we should have done as a vocational technical high school, otherwise we fall into that superficial mindset of high school is just to get kids in college."
Building for the future
The new Minuteman High School building is set to open for the 2019-2020 school year. Beginning with a clean slate allows Minuteman to build a forward thinking school, creating space for new and innovative technology educations.
"When [the original] school was built they couldn't image the kinds of programs we have now, which is one of the reasons this building doesn't serve us moving forward," said Bouquillon.
The 16 vocational technical programs will be designed around five career pathways, tying into the design of the building. Within each pathway will be the necessary shops and academic courses students can apply directly to their career.
The new building will feature a space for Multimedia Engineering, a combination of radio and television broadcasting, technical theater arts and multimedia. Students will have studio booths and a fully functioning theater to hone their skills. There will be ample space for the traditional trade classes like carpentry, electrical and plumbing, as well as new additions like Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing.
"At this point in my career, I can see vocational technical education being accepted and understood, finally," said Bouquillon.