Cranston High School East is rapidly expanding its Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings for the 2023-2024 academic year. The school will offer audio engineering, computer science, …
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Cranston High School East is rapidly expanding its Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings for the 2023-2024 academic year. The school will offer audio engineering, computer science, educational pathways and information technology to next year’s freshmen.
“Coming over from West to East, I realized how important the career and tech programs are to not only to the community, but the school itself and to the students,” said Cranston East Principal Thomas Barbieri.
Barbieri said during his time at Cranston West, he saw a shift in the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC) program. Originally, 65 percent of students participated in the traditional comprehensive high school experience while 35 percent engaged in career and tech programs. There has now been a shift and, according to CACTC Director Ken Hopkins, this year 62 percent of West students are in a career and tech program.
Assistant Principal for Academic Affairs Kaitlin Hitchings says there’s a demand for CTE programs at Cranston East. The school has seen students from the district’s east side middle schools choose to go into the career and tech programs. Since certain programs aren’t offered at Cranston East, youth would attend Cranston West.
“We don’t want their [students’] opportunities to engage in academic programming that they so clearly wanted to be defined by their zip code. We wanted them to be able to have that in their own building, in their own home school,” said Hitchings.
Zachary Farrell, Executive Director of Secondary Programs at Cranston Public Schools (CPS) was instrumental in bringing CTE programs to Cranston East several years ago. The program expansion came to a pause due to the pandemic.
The educational pathways and information technology programs will mirror programs of ones that currently exist at CACTC – however there will be minor differences.
Hopkins explained that information technology will be a computer-oriented class focusing on cybersecurity, networking and computer repairs. Meanwhile, education pathways will be oriented to the overall teaching experience at multiple levels.
Barbieri said the schools are not competing with each other. Rather, the district is offering different versions and providing more opportunities for Cranston students.
The new audio engineering program focuses on all types of digital music production. The coursework gets into nitty gritty with how recording and music production works and taps into kids’ creative energy. The school is working with the Park Theatre to develop work-based learning opportunities for students so they can put their knowledge to practice.
Lastly, the computer science program will focus on app development and the programming language that exists behind network function. The program goes into AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A.
“Everything associated with digital media right now has been targeted by the Governor’s workforce board as a priority career cluster. Anything associated with digital media, IT – that’s where the jobs in Rhode Island are. That’s where the need is,” Hopkins said.
The push within the career and tech fields that are going to produce Rhode Islanders who are prepared to fill those jobs.
Giving students what they’re looking for
Cranston East solicits input from the community, students and families when creating new programs for the school. Barbieri said having a good ear on the community is important and he’s heard people ask about getting career and tech programs at East because their children want to stay at East. Hitchings and Barbieri put together a student leadership team that tells staff what they want/need in a school. The two administrators then spoke to the parent board about the programs which generated excitement.
Some of the things students want include internships, hands-on experience, feeling more connected to their school, having a stronger culture, being more spirited and having more credits that transfer to college.
CPS Communications Specialist Jen Cowart added that many of the career and tech programs offer industry certifications. Students can also earn college credits and participate in SkillsUSA on a local and potentially national level.
“There are so many opportunities built into being a part of that program,” said Cowart.
Students stay with the same group of kids for their four years in the program which creates a family dynamic.
“When you’re in a large high school, it’s nice to be in that small family-like program,” Cowart said.
Barbieri said Superintendent of Cranston Public Schools Jeannine Nota-Masse is very excited that the school is going forward with these four programs.
Cranston East recently hosted its Be a Bolt open house for future students who want to take advantage of Cranston East’s programs, and Barbieri said there was a lot of excitement from the event and the auditorium was almost full. In advertising for the Be a Bolt open house, Hopkins developed the idea of doing a radio commercial to reach more people – which aired in English and Spanish to reach a diverse audience.
The Rhode Island CTE Board of Trustees establishes the CTE program standards which are tied to specific professions within career fields. The number of teachers needed for the new career and tech programs will be solidified once the district knows the number of students for each program. The program usually caps around 25 students, and Hopkins said the programs must have to have at least one person who has gone through a CTE certification process that’s established through the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE).
“All the teachers who are certified in career and tech have at least five years of industry based experience in that career field,” Hopkins said, adding that they pull from their experiences to prepare kids for future opportunities.
Current program success
East’s current CTE programs are showing success including the plumbing program. A senior from the program was recently accepted to the University of Rhode Island and – since he completed his graduate requirements – will spend the second semester interning with a large contracting company within the state.
“Because of his foundation in plumbing and carpentry and contracting, he has a job instead of having to sit in classes that he may not be as interested in,” Hitchings said.
Hopkins added that Cranston East and West’s CTE programs are constantly going through modifications and updates to keep them at the forefront of the state’s CTE programs. The plumbing program recently established a new liaison with Electric Boat to become the only pipe fitting program in the state. The company currently has 3,000 job openings and is looking for pipe fitters and welders.
“Being the only piping fitting approved school in the state is going to provide our students with a fast track to success through Electric Boat,” Hitchings said.
There are also indirect benefits to the programs. Barbieri, whose two children participated in the robotics engineering program at West, found that these high school courses helped them in college – especially with math.
“The math was very easy to him [his son] to the point where he got nice internships in Boston and ended up now having a job offer before leaving college,” Barbieri said.
Barbieri added that his daughter is tutoring kids at the college level because of what she learned in the career and tech program in combo with what she took for courses.
Students have until Feb. 3 to submit their applications. Since there are limited seats in the programs, the applications will then go through a lottery process. The school also has plans to add a few more programs the following year.
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