Minuteman’s biotechnology students, here seen dissecting dogfish, aspire to careers in biomedical engineering and forensic science. Most go to college. Photo: Emily Hanford
Massachusetts’ vocational high schools are preparing students for college, not just for the workforce, writes Emily Hanford on Marketplace.
At Minuteman Regional High School in Lexington, students can learn carpentry, plumbing and welding — and “high tech fields such as video game design, engineering, and biotechnology.”
Minuteman students spend half their time in vocational classes – often referred to as “career and technical classes – and half their time in academic courses. About 60 percent of the school’s graduates go on to college. That’s not the way things were when principal Ernest Houle learned welding at a vocational high school back in the 1980s.
“The highest-level math I ever had in high school was an Algebra 1,” says Houle. “And that only happened my sophomore year because it fit in the schedule.”
These days, “career tech” students can take a full range of college-prep courses.
In 2013, students at regional vocational high schools in Massachusetts did as well on the state English tests (92 percent proficient) as students at traditional high schools (93 percent proficient), notes Hanford. In math, 78 percent of vocational students were proficient compared to 82 percent at traditional high schools.
After years in private school, Sean and Brandon Datar chose Minuteman.
“Being an engineer myself, I like the fact that schools like this cater to making an actual living,” says their father, Nijan Datar. He wasn’t impressed by the top-rated public and private high schools in the Boston suburbs.
. . . the main goal seemed to be getting students into the best, and most expensive, colleges. But no one seemed to be talking about what kids were going to do with their college degrees once they got them.
His wife, Teresa Datar, says high school students need more direction.
“My feeling is that in many high schools, students don’t know why they’re in the classes that they’re in. They’re just kind of biding time,” she says. “And then they go off to college and they flounder.”
Brandon is now a freshman at the Colorado School of Mines, working on a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering. Sean is a sophomore at Minuteman, majoring in robotics.