School officials say a program to offer vocational training and college credits to high school students from Salem, Peabody, Gloucester and Beverly — at no cost to them — has been a big success since it launched two years ago and then greatly expanded thanks to grants and other funding.

The program at Essex North Shore Technical and Agricultural School is called CTE Partnership/After Dark and is available to high school juniors from the four communities. The students take their core academics at their home schools in the morning and then head to the Essex Tech campus in Danvers in the afternoon for technical instruction in courses for construction craft laborer, advanced manufacturing, design and media communication, auto collision and sustainable horticulture.

The school says the Career and Technical Education offerings are dictated by workforce needs and student interest. The students can also earn up to 24 college credits at North Shore Community College in coursework that can go toward an associate degree in a student's trade program. 

The four cities are all members of the regional school district that sends students to Essex Tech, which opened in 2014 following a merger of North Shore Technical High School and Essex Aggie with vocational programs at Peabody High. They all still maintain separate vocational education programs; the After Dark program allows additional students to get workforce training at Essex Tech, and college credits.

A press release says the program is funded by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and gives priority to "oversubscribed schools and programs, especially those in Gateway Cities."

In January 2019, in an effort to expand offerings, Essex Tech partnered with Gloucester High to allow a small group of students to take half their courses at Gloucester High and then bus over to Essex Tech to learn landscaping, masonry and carpentry skills. The program expanded to Salem and Peabody students that fall to study construction and advanced manufacturing. Last year, after securing state grants, the program expanded again to Beverly students and more courses.

A press release says there were 26 students last year, and plans are underway to include new technical programs in the future.

“CTE partnerships are developing as the demand for vocational education rises and waiting lists emerge. Students may well qualify, but there is just not the capacity to teach them," said Essex Tech Superintendent Heidi Riccio in a statement. "By utilizing varied hours to create three 'shifts' a day — our own high school students, CTE Partnership/After Dark students and our NightHawks Adult Education Program — we open the doors to many more students.”

Bonnie Carr, the director of workforce development and adult education at Essex Tech, said the partnership with NSCC is a unique aspect of the program. "Our goal with this program is to provide workforce skills that are in demand and to familiarize students with going to college and encourage them to continue after they graduate from high school. If students maximize the program, they can graduate high school with marketable job skills and industry credentials and college credits.” 

Spring classes at NSCC for this program begin the first week in February and registration is now available for students who are currently participating in After Dark. Parents or students looking for more information or to register should email Maryanne Gearin at mgearin@essextech.net.

“What I think is most exciting about this program is that it creates an opportunity for more people to access education," said Adam Cutler, NSCC's dean of strategic partnerships, in a statement. "We have an aging workforce with not enough people to fill the positions that will be vacated. If we can get young people used to the college experience and motivated to continue their studies beyond high school graduation, regional employers will have a broader pool of trained and educated workers.”

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