Educators across Long Island and the state are boosting career and technical education offerings to high school students, and some are pushing for career prep as early as middle school.
The Hampton Bays and William Floyd districts are among those that have launched new projects in Career and Technical Education, or CTE -- the type of programs for which the state Board of Regents is seeking more money statewide.
"The old model that existed in our thinking was that CTE was for one group of kids. We are breaking the mold of that and trying to infuse a CTE type of approach for as many as we can," said Lars Clemensen, Hampton Bays superintendent.
"They can learn a task, learn a skill and use it to propel them into college," he said, "or get a job to work in college, or a job and a vocational certificate and lead a life to stay on Long Island."
The William Floyd district has forged ahead, using an "academy" approach with its in-house program. This school year, it is offering 11th- and 12-graders instruction in medical assisting and automotive technology in addition to three other disciplines introduced last year.
"High school is our last chance to be prepared before we get thrown out into the real world, and this is a great steppingstone," said junior Kelci Henn, 16, who is enrolled in the Medical Assisting Academy.
More initiatives are on the way. A state-funded school-to-business program, announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last summer, is slated to begin with the 2014-15 school year at three Long Island high schools and other sites around the state, with a goal of ultimately involving 6,000 students.
Career and technical education programs often are "overshadowed by the focus put on college readiness," said Tim Ott, president of the Successful Practices Network, a not-for-profit research and educator-support organization based upstate in Rexford. The network is under contract with the Education Department to operate the CTE Technical Assistance Center for the state.
"Many students, parents, counselors and teachers mistakenly believe that CTE is not an effective way to prepare young people for college -- a belief often based on an outdated image of CTE that does not reflect the quality and rigor of today's 21st-century CTE programs," Ott said.
Today's programs teach students how to run businesses in addition to such skills as carpentry and cosmetology. New industry clusters in health care, technology and jobs in environmentally "green" occupations are being introduced.
"What we are finding is that CTE is a first-choice option, not something that you do if you worry you won't be successful completing a regular academic program," said Tom Rogers, the Nassau BOCES superintendent who soon will take over as schools chief in the Syosset district.
The state Department of Education does not require that New York's nearly 700 school districts report the number of students enrolled in career technical programs. In the 2012-13 school year, 246,651 students in 633 districts statewide were in such programs; included in that total were 23,245 students in 90 of Long Island's 124 districts.
Costs shifted to districts
Traditionally, many technical programs have been offered through the state's 37 Board of Cooperative Educational Services districts, or BOCES. Local districts pay BOCES for their students' enrollment, and districts receive reimbursement for a portion of the cost.
But state officials said the existing formula -- set in 1990 and not adjusted for inflation -- only aids the first $30,000 of BOCES instructor salaries. As a result, the state's relative contribution to funding these programs has been reduced, with costs shifted to local districts.
The Regents said a hike in state aid for BOCES is needed to reflect the reality that the programs are expensive to operate because of training requirements for instructors and the cost of equipment and materials.
Some school districts have not been able to expand, or even maintain, access to technical programs, the Regents noted.
The William Floyd district stopped sending students to Eastern Suffolk BOCES after the 2010-11 school year, in part because of budget constraints driven by the loss of $20 million in state aid over a two-year period, officials said. That year, the district could afford to send only 80 students to BOCES classes.
Now, for about the same money, the district has its own extensive technical education program for high school juniors and seniors in its five academies -- carpentry, cosmetology and culinary arts, which started in the 2012-13 school year, and medical assisting and automotive technology, which launched last fall. The full program's current cost is $742,941.
Building college readiness
"It made economic sense to create something within the confines of the school so we could build in not just career and technical education, but also college readiness -- to integrate those right on the premises," Superintendent Paul Casciano said.
The decision, he said, has had positive effects: The number of students involved in career and technical education has increased; students can participate over a two-year span, which can help with opportunities for licensing and certification; and the students are able to stay in their home school rather than traveling to a BOCES facility.
Students learn culinary skills in a fully stocked kitchen at the high school, complete with industrial stoves and commercial equipment. The automotive technology component includes a working service garage with lifts for cars.
Cassandra Scala, 17, a senior enrolled in the Cosmetology Academy, said it's "another way to learn."
"I would definitely want to do hair -- even maybe open my own salon," she said. "Confidence-wise, I feel more confident in this class."
High school Principal Barbara Butler said the program gives students many choices.
"The idea is they can go right into the industry, or if they are accruing college credits, they could go to a two-year or four-year school," she said.
Some educators are trying to have students think of careers much earlier.
Last year, Cuomo announced 16 winners of a statewide competition to form public-private partnerships to prepare high school students for high-skilled jobs in technology, manufacturing and health care.
The program -- called NYS Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or NYS P-TECH -- is expected to help students get high school diplomas, college degrees and access to jobs.
In the fall, ninth-graders in high schools in Freeport, Wyandanch and Uniondale will take part. At each of those schools and others in the program, 20 more students will participate each year for the next six years.
Considering careers early
Students will earn an associate degree at no cost to their families and will be first in line for jobs with participating companies when they graduate.
"The sooner you can expose these students to business and the world out there, the better," said Francine Federman, assistant dean of college-high school programs at Farmingdale State College, the college-level partner for the program.
In Malverne, school officials have been asking students to consider career paths, including technical education, while still in middle school. The program is named "Project Dream."
"What we found several years ago, and what we found from kids we surveyed, [was] they had no dream, they had no focus. They were saying, 'I hadn't really thought about it,' " Superintendent James Hunderfund said.
Students who now are seniors are the first group to complete the program.
Nia Pollard, 17, who wants to be a pediatrician, said she appreciated finding her career path early on. In high school, she took chemistry classes and focused on science.
"You should know about college and what you want to do in the future starting in middle school," she said. "I know I was very well-prepared."
Hampton Bays High School, in partnership with Eastern Suffolk BOCES, offered one of the first school-based career and technical education programs in Suffolk County.
High school students there can participate in an early childhood education course where they work in a lab setting with children in prekindergarten, learning how to teach them. The students will graduate with a New York State Child Development associate license, which allows them to immediately begin work in a child-care setting.
Clemensen, the Hampton Bays superintendent, hopes to expand the program within the district and to neighboring schools. The district still sends students to Eastern Suffolk BOCES.
Educators today "look at college and career -- not college or career," Clemensen said. "Hands-on learning has proven to be some of the best learning."