By Ashley M. Casey
With a $35 million renovation of the Oswego County BOCES complex on the agenda for this summer and some new programs on the way, the Career and Technical Education branch of BOCES is undergoing some big changes for the 2014-15 school year.
CTE Principal Marla Berlin, who took the helm in September 2013, presented an update on the programs’ progress at the Feb. 11 Fulton Board of Education meeting. This academic year, 123 of the county’s 704 CTE students come from the Fulton district.
Berlin, who previously taught business at Mexico High School, said CTE is introducing a STEM academy, two business education programs and “Career Connections,” an effort aimed at disengaged 10th graders.
Career Connections is a half-day exploratory career program that lets 10th graders who are in danger of dropping out of high school experience the various programs CTE has to offer. Berlin said the program’s goal is to “try to hook them into learning” and “bring back that joy of learning.” Although enrollment numbers are not yet final, Berlin said she expects up to 40 students to participate.
Next year, CTE will also eliminate the Floral Design and Greenhouse Technology programs.
“It really was not self-sustaining and not supported by local labor markets,” Berlin told the Fulton school board.
Berlin told The Valley News that current 11th-graders in those programs can continue in different CTE programs next year. She said one student who is interested in opening a floral shop one day may take the new business program, and another botany-minded student may continue in the new STEM academy.
The STEM academy will use scientific inquiry to solve real world problems. Berlin said BOCES has acquired 3-D printers for use in the digital media, STEM and motor sports fabrication programs. Students are using the 3-D printers to design and create objects. She said one of BOCES’ non-3-D printers has a broken component that is no longer made by the printer’s manufacturer.
“Our students are working with CAD and 3-D printers to design … and replicate that part,” Berlin said.
She said BOCES is also looking into buying a 3-D printer that uses chocolate and hard candy for the culinary arts students to create their own confections.
“The kids here think out of the box,” Berlin said. She recalled one student who suggested that BOCES build a mini-fire station for CTE public safety students to practice. “It says a lot about the innovative and creative thinking that kids are inspired to do while they’re here.”
CTE’s programs align with New York state’s new Common Core Learning Standards, which have an emphasis on hands-on, project-based learning and real-world application.
“That’s how they learn, that’s what excites them, and that’s what keeps them in school so they graduate,” Berlin said.
Students in CTE programs are held to industry standards and participate in internships with local companies.
“The success of our internship placement really depends on community support,” Berlin said. “We have excellent rapport (and we’re) making sure our students are knowledgeable, prepared and appropriate for those placements.”
CTE works with Oswego County and the state Department of Labor to keep a finger on the pulse of the county’s job market and place students in fields in which they can find jobs upon graduation.
“It’s not just about placing students just to place them somewhere,” Berlin said. “We truly want to help them move forward in their career path.”
Recently, Oswego’s CTE students won 32 awards in the regional SkillsUSA competition at Morrisville State College. Oswego took the top three spots in collision repair. Many students will go on to the state conference in April at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
Despite the whirlwind five months of hard work her new position has brought, Berlin said it has been rewarding.
“It’s all about the kids, watching them learn and their experiences the instructors give them,” she said. “Whenever I get bogged down with paperwork, I walk through the programs. That just makes me smile. They’re looking at their future.”