BURRILLVILLE – Some students at Burrillville High School are excited about the opportunities and experience that career and technical education programs have provided to them, and now, they’re sharing their enthusiasm with underclassmen in a new set of promotional videos.
Marketing firm Martin & Associates worked with students and teachers to prepare short clips on the school’s construction management, engineering and environmental science CTE programs: coursework approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education that allows kids to gain hands-on experience and earn college credits.
“I think the overriding goal for the programs at Burrillville High School are to create a student-centered experience that utilizes the latest technology from the field, that brings in experts to work with students to make connections, and gives the students every opportunity to achieve their post secondary goals,” said Principal Michael Whaley in an introductory clip. “Our approach has been to structure programs so that they replicate what happens in the field.”
Several teachers took part in the three-minute shorts. But the programs are arguably best explained by those who benefit from the work: the students.
“They have the teacher that stands in front of the class for some of it, but there is hands on. There is group work,” said Cory Gaucher, a senior in the engineering program. “All around – you’re going to find out how you like learning.”
Andrew Benjamin, a senior in the environmental science program, said the coursework has helped him to figure out what he enjoys doing.
“I feel like the person who educated me about this program kind of led me to where my success is today,” said Benjamin.
“This is a great school,” Benjamin added. “The community’s absolutely tight. We help each other in any way we can.”
CTE programs are similar to what once simply called “vocational training,” but in Rhode Island, there’s incentive to develop more, in a system that proponents say is designed to create greater opportunity for students. Students can choose to enroll in programs outside of their district, giving them access to a greater variety of potential future career choices.
But the burden for financing those out-of-district educations falls on the schools that often already have tight budgets, and development and approval of the career pathways has become something of a race – and a competition – between local districts to retain students.
In Burrillville, coursework in four more potential CTEs is already offered to students: childcare, business, biomedical and computer science. Recently, the district began the process of getting the programs approved by RIDE, which would allow BHS to be reimbursed by outside districts if those students sign on.
“There are districts that are far ahead of where we are and there are districts that are behind where we are,” said Sollitto.
It seems that so far, the RIDE-approved coursework has been growing in popularity with the students. The school’s robotics program – enhanced by the engineering coursework – has won 11 state titles since it was launched in 2006, and many of the students return to the school to mentor their younger classmates.
“You really have a lot of fun doing it,” said Andrew Lacouture, a senior. “My favorite part about the pathway would have to be the ability to earn college credits for engineering, on top of being able to just convert them to (general education credits) if I wanted to get those out of the way.”
In the construction management program, students become OSHA 10 certified.
“I want to give them the best set of tools that I can to get them the best job that they can get,” said technology teacher Kevin Stockwell. “Giving them the skills that they need to enter the workforce at a very a well-paying job is what I’ve been trying to do for the past 20 years here at Burrillville.”
Morgan Johnson said that her post high school goal is to take over her dad’s construction company.
“Since I already know everything, I won’t have to spend the next two to three years learning everything from the basics,” Johnson said.
School Committee members were impressed.
“I like to hear our students talk that way,” said Committee member Dorothy Cardon. “It’s great to hear students talking about how they feel about their education.”
“It’s a substantial amount of work that went into those,” said Sollitto. “The kids’ voice in those videos certainly comes through loud and clear, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
Sollitto said the plan is to flood social media with the clips.
“This is really the first step in a long road but I’m very encouraged in the work so far,” he said.
“I think it will help so much with keeping kids in school, because some of them aren’t college-bound and they know they’re not and they don’t want to be,” said Committee member Terri Lacey. “Give them a trade… I think it’s wonderful.”