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My Turn: Concord Regional Technical Center is an economic engine

Career and technical education for high school students today is nothing like what you might remember from decades ago. It is a competitive and robust option for high school students who want to be prepared for college and careers.

The Concord Regional Technical Center, where I work, offers a tremendous opportunity for students attending any of the nine high schools we serve to become considerably more college and workforce competitive upon graduation. Far too often I hear adults praising career and technical education because, they say, not every kid can or will go to college – and thank goodness there is something for them! The truth could not be further from this perception. We serve an extremely diverse student body. Almost every one of our students is planning his or her postsecondary future, and our students are considerably more focused on where they are heading than a majority of their peers.

Students graduating from one of our programs have two years of experience under their belt. In many cases they have earned credits for two or more college classes and have industry certificates like an LNA license or an OSHA safety card.

When our students apply to a post-secondary institution they can write about their nine-week internship at a local car dealership or their 12-week internship as a student teacher. Our students also have stories to tell because they have trained on some of the newest and best industry equipment and have gained confidence in doing so.

The students who successfully complete our programs are well ahead of the game. In most cases, they don’t risk wasting money or taking on excessive loans exploring untested post-secondary options. Many already know what they want because they have had a extensive taste of it already. They have focus and are excited about their future.

A new program planned for next year allows students to earn their Firefighter I certificate as well as college credits at the same time. This exciting program is offered in partnership with the Concord Fire Department. The instructors will be certified fire professionals.

Our students are going to study such post-secondary tracks as: diesel engines, physical therapy, commercial art, programming, welding, elementary education, forensics, cosmetology and baking, to name a few. We are especially proud of a number of our 2012 culinary arts students who have been accepted and enrolled in bachelor’s programs at the Culinary Institute of America and New England Culinary Institute, two of the finest culinary schools in the country.

Our students possess a significant head start on their post-secondary education. For example, almost all of the programs offer dual enrollment college options so students can earn high school and college credits simultaneously. In addition, our programs are carefully linked to regional colleges through written articulation agreements that promote successful transitions. Our students are regularly coached by their instructors on the value of continuing their education after high school. We have frequent college visits and regular conversations about “next year.” Our instructors take great pride in their efforts to connect with every student. It is very personal.

In the 2011 report “Pathways to Prosperity” by Harvard University, new rigorous versions of career and technical education are praised as very competitive and worthy options for all students. The report emphasizes that, “For too many of our youth, we have treated preparing for college versus preparing for career as mutually exclusive options.” Doctors, lawyers and architects know this is not true – why not embrace this approach for more students?

Often we hear the word “college” and think four-year degree, but the term extends to two-year degrees and trade certificates. This is a shift in thinking for many of us as we think about 21st century skills to promote economic success. “Pathways to Prosperity” suggests, in order for our country to be competitive in the future, we must embrace more options, especially those involving higher education and workplace-valued technical skills. The CRTC offers students a tremendous head start on this pathway to college and work readiness.

Add it all up and you may conclude, as we have, that this might be the “right” time for career and technical education. We continue to grow and refine our operations, while increasing rigor throughout. The diversity and the quality of our offerings, along with our skilled instructors, is meeting the needs of a very wide span of Capital Region high school students. Come check us out. You will be impressed.

(Steve Rothenberg is director of the Concord Regional Technical Center.)

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