Dear Lancaster Parents, Family, and Friends...
At 16, Ryan Pierpaoli knows that he wants to open a woodworking business making cabinetry and furniture after he graduates from Lancaster High School with the Class of 2019.
Currently a junior, he is enrolled in the Manufacturing & Construction Skilled Trades Academy. He knows that over the next two years he will develop the skills he needs and make contacts within the manufacturing community that could help launch his woodworking business. With good grades and a strong interest in woodworking, he will be ready to enter the workforce after high school.
As the district's newest career academy, the Skilled Trades Academy has the distinction of putting students on a direct employment path by giving them demonstrable skills to enter the manufacturing or construction workforce upon graduation. Piloted during the 2016-17 school year, the first cohort of 20 students was accepted for this school year.
During the three-year curriculum, students in the Skilled Trades Academy will complete a progressive series of courses designed to offer practical experiences. The focus will be on acquiring both the soft skills as well as technical skills for entry-level employment. Classes will visit local manufacturing facilities, host various trades professionals, and discuss current trends in the field. The student's senior year will include a capstone project that will involve solving a real problem and possibly working with the Project Lead the Way program and the other academies at LHS. While details are still being finalized on the scope of the capstone course, Dave Santoro, academy director, is excited about the possibilities for our students.
Several years ago our district sat down with trade unions representatives, local politicians, and manufacturing business officials to hear what skills our students needed in order to work in manufacturing. We heard that the jobs were there, but there were not enough qualified candidates.
"Anyone I talked to is saying the exact same thing, there's a need for skilled tradespeople," said Santoro. He saw the need for a pathway for students who were in the traditional technology program. The questions discussed over two years of planning were, "What's the end goal for the traditional technology program?" and "How do we line up the traditional program with the pre-engineering Project Lead the Way (PLTW) technology program?"
Just as there are multiple paths within our curriculum for students to study advanced courses in math, science, and languages, there are also several routes through the technology program. The pre-engineering technology track starts in fifth grade at William Street School with PLTW Launch and continues into middle school and high school, where students interested in an advanced pre-engineering path can take PLTW courses.
The addition of the Skilled Trades Academy now lines up the two paths through the technology program. The traditional technology program at the middle and high schools continues to offer woodworking, home repair and maintenance, construction or manufacturing systems, materials processing, basic electricity, and architectural drafting coursework. Now, through the academy, the path is charted from start to finish.
Lancaster Central School District offers seven career-themed academies, where each stands as a school within a school. The idea is that the academies help make a very large high school a little smaller and that through a mix of coursework and project-based learning, students leave with the experience necessary to attain an entry-level job or continue their college education.
Partnering with local businesses is a key aspect of all our academies. Each academy has an advisory board to establish partnerships with employers, higher education institutions, and the community.
Santoro hopes to grow the list of manufacturing and construction companies that the academy partners with so there are ample opportunities for students to job shadow, participate in internships, and get mentoring opportunities.
He gets right out in front of the idea that some people think careers in the skilled trades are less than ideal and that some think college is the best decision for all students.
"I know a lot of people who are skilled tradespeople who are doing very well for themselves," said Santoro, who is an ideal ambassador for our Skilled Trades Academy. His excitement and enthusiasm is contagious, and his students often skip their lunch to head down to the shop class to work on a project during a free period.
For 16-year-old Ryan, who was one of the students in the pilot course, his free time both in and out of school revolves around woodworking. He spends his lunch period in the shop at school. He works part time at a lumber supply company and also builds cabinets and shelves at home. Mounted in the woodworking shop at school is a television cabinet he built for his classroom.
We are proud to offer Ryan and all the other Skilled Trades Academy students an opportunity to invest in their futures!
Michael J. Vallely, Ph.D.