State education head talks high school education at BVCC breakfast
By Patty Roy
Speakers at the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce (BVCC) breakfast held on Sept. 27 focused on innovation and pathways to student success though the intersection of education and opportunities for young people to gain the technical skills needed to get a job and create a career pathway.
The breakfast celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Blackstone Valley Hub for Workforce Development. The “Hub” for Workforce Development is the non-profit arm of the BVCC. Established in 2018, is pledged to serving the workforce training needs of the community, schools and businesses.
Business, educational leaders and non-profit program developers were the attendees at the event held at VFW Post 3329 in Millbury.
The morning kicked off with an intro to the program from Hub chair Mike Rubin, Uxbridge High School principal about providing tracks from high school to workforce.
“We’re now offering technologies that are cutting edge,” Rubin said. “Virtual welding, if you haven’t tried it, it’s seriously one of the coolest things you’ll ever do. Advanced manufacturing robotics, cutting edge stuff that most of us in our individual silos couldn’t do.”
Much of the instruction is provided by onsite learning in actual businesses.
Rubin followed his introduction to the program with a startling story, but one that felt familiar to the educators in the room.
There was a boy from Guatemala who walked from his country of birth to Texas.
“He got to Texas with a piece of paper in his coat that was basically this notarized document that said ‘my parents can’t take care of me anymore, but I have an uncle in Uxbridge,’” Rubin related.
Guatemala is in turmoil and the teen’s father had been shot and his brother had been shot. At nine years old, he had been pulled out of school to work the coffee fields. He was unable to read or speak English subsequently was classified as a student of limited formal education.
He showed up in Uxbridge at 15 years old, learned English, got an Applied Manufacturing Technology Pathway certification as well as an OSHA certification.
“He did all that in partnership with some of our teachers, counselors and staff,” Rubin said. The teen was so motivated, he rode his bike to the Hub every day.
The young man is now going into a job on a manufacturing site and he’s teaching his uncle what it means to be a manufacturer, so he doesn’t have to mow lawns every day,” said Rubin.
The teen is just one success story. Others were students that were undecided what to do after high school and the program gave them much appreciated direction.
The Hub innovation center considers “things like durable skills, we think about things like determination. Resilience. Breaking down barriers, getting support from other people in the community, asking for help,” Rubin said.
The featured speaker for the group of innovative educators was Patrick Tutwiler, PhD , the state Secretary of the Executive Office of Education and Gov. Maura Healey’s top advisor on education.
Tutwiler offered a driving principle: “that we can all connect to reform for a brighter future in Massachusetts for all students.”
“Stabilize, heal and transform. I submit to you that these principles may serve as our framework as we forge ahead,” he said.
Education is in a recovery period; stabilization and healing are enabling conditions and foundational to sustain transformation, Tutwiler said.
Having been a superintendent of schools in the city of Lynn, he said he was “deeply familiar the present day challenges with school experience, staffing and mental health.”
“Our first budget, which Gov. Healey signed into law last month, includes fully funding the student opportunity act, and designated investments toward mental health, and increased staffing and retention options, “ Tutwiler said.
He also offered another piece of healing advice “that’s not wrapped up on budget or policy.” Everyone needs to partner to improve the narrative around the teaching profession, he said.
“This is a profound workforce issue, “Tutwiler said.
The extraordinary increase in and availability of technology should involve reimagining high school in the state, he noted. There have been changes in the past decade on how folks view shifts in early education through grade 8, but there has been no corresponding change in high school.
With respect for the perspectives and life experiences of all students, high school needs to redesign its learning experiences for deeper student engagement.
Class relevancy could be increased with deeper hands-on instruction and advising models to empower all students to make informed career and college choices.
Systems should take into account the historically marginalized, personalizing their course work.
Earning college credits in high school helps student learn the skills to get ahead in their careers without being saddled with debt, Tutwiler said.
Through innovative career pathways students gain real world experience in high demand fields that maximize career and technical education resources, including Chapter 74 programs that meet the definition of vocational technical education and After Dark education initiatives.
“That will be invaluable when they enter the workforce,” Tutwiler said, adding that it is also clear that Chapter 74 capacity needs to be extended throughout the state.
“High school is the launching point for students into their adult lives. And we have to realize the full potential of what that educational experience should be,” he said. In fact, we want to stabilize you and transform the system from start to finish or as some have put it, from cradle to career.”