09/02/2011

Connecticut: Career and Technical Education at Its Best

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Politicians like to talk about the need to educate a skilled workforce and foster an environment that encourages job creators. Step into A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford, Conn., and you'll meet one skill-building, future job creator after another.

The Sept. 1 visit to Prince by AFT president Randi Weingarten was the third stop on the AFT's "Making a Difference Every Day" back-to-school tour. It's one of 18 state-run technical high schools, serving grades 9 through 12, where students graduate workforce- and college-ready thanks to their instructors, who are members of AFT Connecticut's State Vocational Federation of Teachers (SVFT).

photo © 2011 John Muldoon

A.I. Prince Technical High School principal William Chaffin led AFT president Randi Weingarten on the tour of the school.

 

In addition to traditional academics, Prince offers instruction in 13 trades, including plumbing and heating, electrical, and graphics technology. Fifty-five percent of the school's students are female, many pursuing nontraditional jobs, says principal William Chaffin. Students graduate with a diploma and a certificate in a trade.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, former chair of the state House Education Committee, welcomed Weingarten, who was joined by a number of dignitaries, including Connecticut Technical High School System superintendent Patricia Ciccone, Connecticut AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Lori Pelletier, State Board of Education chair Alan Taylor, State Board of Education member Patricia Keavney (a former SVFT local officer), AFT Connecticut president Sharon Palmer (who also is an AFT vice president), AFT Connecticut second vice president Leo Canty, and SVFT president Jan Hochadel.

Culinary arts students Jameik Heron and Melissa Martinez, both seniors, escorted the group along with the principal. Heron, the class president, plans to attend Johnson & Wales University's College of Culinary Arts and someday open a restaurant. Martinez has set her sights on opening her own bakery.

Photos © 2011 John Muldoon

Automated Manufacturing Technology students show their designs to Weingarten.

 

Whether Weingarten was visiting with students in culinary arts, automated manufacturing or carpentry, their entrepreneurial spirit was evident.

Enrollment in the school is competitive. Superintendent Ciccone says that there are typically four to six applicants for every seat. Academic records, test scores and disciplinary history are factors in admissions.

Walking through the pristine, purple-lockered halls, Weingarten was struck by the quiet. It's an indication, she says, that the students are not only diligently at work—"the kids want to be here."

"This is the world of work," says Ciccone. "The teachers' workplace, the administrators' workplace—and their [the students'] workplace." Along with math and reading, school climate is a cornerstone of school improvement districtwide, says Ciccone, explaining that school climates that are healthy, positive, respectful and safe foster student connection. A school climate like the one at Prince enables learning to happen, says Weingarten.

All educators know that one factor in setting the tone for school climate is the physical building itself. For the 2009-10 school year, Prince opened its new, improved and expanded building. Twelfth-grade counselor Larry Stub, a member of the SVFT, says the new school building has changed the students. "The kids are more respectful of the property," says Stub, who has been with the system for 30 years, noting that the old building, inside and out, was covered with graffiti.

"So, kids see the new building and say, 'Hey, I'm important,' " Weingarten notes.

Photos © 2011 John Muldoon

Weingarten thanks Culinary Arts students Jameik Heron (center) and Melissa Martinez for their hospitality.

 

It's that kind of attitude that will drive Prince's future job creators—and job fillers. When Weingarten asks a sophomore carpentry class what they want from the adults in the room, one student says: "Keep the technical schools."

That is exactly what the AFT wants to do—and more. Recognizing that the lack of federal, state and local funding has squeezed career and technical education programs for students and adults, delegates to the AFT's 2010 national convention passed a resolution committing the union to "encourage the expansion of career and technical education programs in school systems throughout the United States."

The last stop on the tour was a reception hosted by the culinary arts department, featuring delectable treats made by students.

The Connecticut Technical High School System serves more than 10,000 full-time high school students, as well as some 5,500 adult students in apprenticeship and other programs. [Kathy Nicholson/photos ©John Muldoon 2011]

September 2, 2011