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Mentorship program aims to prepare high school students for careers in the trades

Among the things students are typically taught in high school: how to find the cosine of an angle, what started the War of 1812, and the chemical composition of salt. What they often aren’t often taught: time management, financial literacy, and other life skills.

A new trade school mentoring program, to be offered at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, aims to bridge that gap by helping students achieve professional success in high school and beyond. Nearly 100 sophomores in its Civic Infrastructure Academy will be paired with trade professionals who’ll serve as long-term mentors.

Organizers hope to launch the program within the next several months. It’s a partnership between Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts and J.C. Cannistraro LLC, the largest mechanical construction company in Boston, aimed at creating greater access to the trades.


“We realized that there’s a larger need here, that in the City of Boston and pretty much nationally, there was a shortage of tradesmen and tradeswomen,” said Mark O’Donnell, president and CEO of BBBSEM. “We need services like HVAC, electrical, and construction. … They’re in demand like you wouldn’t believe.”

BBBSEM’s Mentor 2.0 program previously focused on preparing local first-generation and low-income students for college, but O’Donnell said the nonprofit understands that not every student wants to follow that path. So it sought to create a program for students hoping to pursue an education track more focused on vocational skills.

Students and mentors will communicate online weekly and meet in person once a month. The lesson plans will be designed to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and mindset to successfully navigate high school.

The mentorship will begin in sophomore year, during which students will draft resumes and cover letters and learn how to network. Throughout their junior and senior years, they’ll focus on preparing for college and post-secondary career paths. And the mentorship is expected to last beyond graduation, O’Donnell said, because unions typically don’t take students fresh out of high school.


“They usually have to have some work experience for at least three to five years,” he said. “So we want to make sure that we have partners that can advocate for these kids and say, ‘We’re going to help you through this program and then we’re going to help you to pass that test to become a union member if that’s what you choose to do.’”

John Cannistraro, president of J.C. Cannistraro, said while some jobs in construction do require a college degree, those that don’t still require proficiency in subjects such as English and math.

“We find that it’s very important that we’re able to mentor young people in order to give them the tools that they need to be successful in high school so that they can work anywhere,” said Cannistraro, who stressed that the construction industry is in need of the next generation of workers to enter mechanical trades.

Sidney Brown, Madison Park’s head of school, said he hopes students in the program learn how to navigate different industries, including whether and how to be a union member.

Brown said he sees a “big drop-off” in students of color being able to enter the trades compared with their white counterparts. Overall, Madison Park had a 60 percent graduation rate last year.

“We want to make sure that we can help get our students over the hump — the ones that want to participate and have the right attitudes and attendance and all that — to work with these mentors to become productive citizens and have those high-paying jobs,” he said.


Angela Yang can be reached at angela.yang@globe.com.