DANVERS — To broaden vocational opportunities amid a long wait list for its programs, Essex Tech has received a $300,000 private grant to create advanced manufacturing program and construction and craft laborer programs for Peabody and Salem students.

Superintendent Heidi Riccio said the grant from the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation would pay for 12 to 15 students per community each year for two years — up to 60 students in all — to attend the afternoon programs at Essex Tech’s sprawling Maple Street campus.

The announcement of the partnership with Salem and Peabody comes at a time when Essex North Shore Technical and Agricultural School, which has more than 1,400 students, has proven so popular, it has run out of room.

The issue was raised this year by Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who was concerned that some Peabody students who were wait-listed at Essex Tech, and who formerly could have enrolled in Peabody vocational school programs, might be “getting lost.”

Peabody has 289 students enrolled at Essex Tech this year. But before it became a member of the Essex Tech regional district, Peabody had 500 in its high school vocational program. Peabody High offers career technical education courses in areas such as cosmetology and medical assisting, but it lacks hands-on programs such as carpentry and automotive.

In a statement, Bettencourt said the new Essex Tech program “offers a tremendous opportunity for some of our high school students to explore a career in advanced manufacturing or construction and craft labor, while continuing their regular coursework.”

“We will continue looking for ways to help those students who could benefit from vocational training but who are not enrolled at Essex Tech,” he said. 

While Salem High offers a number of vocational technical programs, advanced manufacturing and construction are not among them. 

“I think we are excited about the partnership because it will give more opportunities to Salem students,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. 

Driscoll said the program gives more Salem students access to Essex Tech’s advanced manufacturing equipment. Industry skills are in high demand on the North Shore.  

In an interview, Riccio said it was exciting to partner with other communities on these vocational programs, given the need for them and the school’s wait list.

She said Essex Tech has about 1,500 students apply for 400 slots. The number doesn’t represent a true wait list, she said — some go to high school in their districts, while others attend private school.

Riccio said the program expansion comes as the next generation starts to value technical education. 

The grant will pay for Salem and Peabody High students to attend the program starting in their junior year. They’ll go to classes at their high schools in the morning, then travel to Essex Tech for vocational and technical studies in the afternoon. 

In the first year, 12 to 15 students each from Peabody and Salem high schools will be admitted. The following year, the program will open to an additional 12 to 15 students from each district. 

The grant money from the Smith Family Foundation will pay for curriculum, materials and instruction, Riccio noted.

“It’s really so that this is at no cost to either district,” Riccio said.

Pilot program

In the fall, Essex Tech launched a pilot construction and craft laborer program for Gloucester High students, who now go to Essex Tech part-time in the afternoon to learn landscaping, masonry and carpentry. It’s a collaboration among Gloucester Public Schools, Essex Tech and the Laborers’ Local 22 in Malden.

Seven Gloucester students take part in the program, said Jill Sawyer, director of Career Technical Education for Essex Tech’s West Academy. 

One of them is Gloucester High junior Ethian Rodriguez, 17. He starts his day at 7:30 a.m., and studies math, science, history and English in the morning. Then, he boards a bus to Essex Tech for the rest of the school day. A private donation paid for the transportation. 

It can be a long day — he typically doesn’t get home until 6 p.m. On Fridays, instructors travel to Gloucester High for the students’ certification training. 

“The program is great,” Rodriguez said. “It’s giving me an opportunity that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

Rodriguez has demolished walls at the school’s small animal building — Saywer said the school is reconfiguring space as part of an affiliation with Angell Animal Medical Centers — and toured a work site in Boston.

Rodriguez did not apply to Essex Tech before entering high school but he likes working as a laborer. He plans to enter an apprenticeship program with the union after he graduates. 

“I like working with my hands and this is a perfect fit for me,” Rodriguez said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.