Metro

Medford Voke-Tech students on the cutting edge

05/08/2017 MEDFORD, MA Tess Mauro (cq) 17, helps build the framework for a restaurant at Medford Vocational Technical High School. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Tess Mauro helps build the framework for a restaurant at Medford Vocational Technical High School.

For nearly 90 years, Medford Vocational Technical High School has been training students for the workforce, always keeping up with the demands of the marketplace.

But now, “Vocational school is not what people think,” said Matt Grant, 16, a student in the electrical program.

“In my parents’ time, it was for people that couldn’t make it in regular high school. Today, it is just the opposite. It is very challenging and you have to be a good student.”

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“Medford is a unique community,” said Heidi Riccio, the voke school’s director/principal. “The community has been supportive of vocational education since 1930.

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“When, in light of the MCAS, neighboring schools eliminated vocational training and pushed college preparation, Medford stayed true to who they are as a city. Today, all our programs are designed to meet the expectations of 21st-century industries.”

The City of Everett has partnered with Medford and currently has 25 students enrolled at the voke-tech.

Four years ago, Riccio “broke down the wall between Medford High and the Medford Vocational Technical School” by integrating the academics. The students of both schools work together in planning extracurricular activities, and vocational students play on Medford High sports teams.

Incoming freshman take academic classes alongside the traditional high school students. The ninth-graders get to try out the various shop programs, including automotive technology, biotechnical and environmental sciences, business technology and marketing, culinary arts, design and visual communications, metal fabrication, HVAC-R, and robotics, automation, and engineering.

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“I knew I wanted to go to the vocational school,” said Tess Mauro, 17. “My first rotation as a freshman was in the carpentry shop, and I immediately fell in love with carpentry. I was the only girl in the program my first year. Now other girls get to see me in the program and have joined.”

05/08/2017 MEDFORD, MA Wedefegerson Desir (cq), 16, works on his persistence of vision display at Medford Vocational Technical High School. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Wede Desir works on his persistence of vision display. He runs track and plays football at Medford High.

Wede Desir, 16, loves the hands-on part of his robotics program and how useful the math and science he learns in his academics classes are in those applications. He also likes that he gets to be on the Medford High football and track teams.

Mauro, who also runs varsity track, agreed.

“I use the academic math skills in the shop all the time for measuring and building. I use art and design to build [computer-aided design] plans for cabinetry projects. What I learned in history class has helped me understand why things are built a certain way.”

Said Grant, “Physics has been very useful in my electrical shop, and vice versa.”

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In March, Medford voke-tech received a $500,000 Workforce Skills Capital Grant from the state to rebuild the school’s commercial kitchen, café, dining room, and a conference room. Grant is one of the students working alongside professionals to build the new facilities.

“I really like being on the job,” he said. “My teachers and the electricians I work with really care about me. They make sure I am learning in the shop and the classroom.”

05/08/2017 MEDFORD, MA Electrical teacher Rich Cormio (cq) (left) watches as Matt Grant (cq) 16, installs an outlet at Medford Vocational Technical High School. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Matt Grant gets some hands-on experience installing an outlet with help from electrical teacher Rich Cormio.

For Riccio, learning goes beyond hands-on experience.

“There is language and vocabulary specific to each profession,” she said. “Students are communicating with the professionals, learning that language and real life work skills that will serve them in the future.”

All three students have clear plans for the future. Desir will enroll in college directly after high school to pursue a career in consumer robotics. Grant is looking to become an apprentice and will spend 150 hours in technical instruction at night over the next four years to earn his electrician license.

“If you look at the post-secondary training for a student like Matt Grant, you will see it is a big commitment over a long period, similar to getting a college degree,” Riccio said.

Labor unions are supportive of the vocational training programs. IBEW Local 103, which represents electricians and telecommunications specialists, offers a scholarship to the top electrical student each year. Laborers Local 22, representing the building trades, offers an apprenticeship program to all graduating seniors.

Carpentry shops already are recruiting Mauro, who has demonstrated technical skills and academic achievement and has taken on a leadership role, as vice president of her class.

She plans “to gain a year or two of real work experience and financial stability” before enrolling in college.

“I have friends in the regular high school that wish they had switched to the voke,” Mauro said. “Going to the voke is like going to high school, only there is more. You get to eat lunch with your friends and play sports, but you get a skill and much more out of your education.”

Linda Greenstein can be reached at greensteinlm@gmail.com.