, Salem, MA


November 16, 2012

Vocational education isn’t what it used to be


In Essex County, 38 percent of students do not go on to any postsecondary education. Many students see no clear connection between their schoolwork and tangible opportunities in the labor market and, as a result, find learning boring and irrelevant. School learning is indeed abstract, theoretical and discipline-based, while work is concrete, specific to the task, organized by projects and problems, and cross-disciplinary. Work-based learning is a credible, proven alternative education pathway for many youths who are disengaged from learning and at risk for dropping out.

Nick Arno is a 2009 graduate of North Shore Tech, arriving there after eighth grade at Collins Middle School. “I was always interested in working with my hands and attending vocational school. Being able to link academic subjects, particularly math and science, with my career interest definitely helped me stay engaged in school,” he says. Nick left North Shore Tech at the height of the recession and got a job as an electrician at Cranney Home Services, where he is still employed.

The Salem High vocational department, run by Richard McLaughlan (former principal of North Shore Tech), is state-certified and prepares its four-year students to enter the labor market or get college credit in their vocational area. Graduates receive a Massachusetts Vocational Certificate in addition to their high school diploma, enabling them to receive vocational credit toward an apprenticeship or advanced standing in the military.

There are 141 students enrolled in these programs, and another 140 students participate through the exploratory programs. While it is difficult to track all the money in and out of these programs, the math seems to indicate that most of the costs are being covered. The school is considering whether to add more programs, such as facilities management, early child development and medical assisting.

Of the 33 students who graduated in 2010 from the four-year programs, 12 went to postsecondary education, 10 went to work in the trade they studied, and 11 either went to work in an unrelated field or the data was not available.

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