Long Island's career and technical schools seeing spike in enrollment

Programs that train high school students to become electricians, carpenters, barbers and plumbers are seeing an enrollment boost at Long Island's career and technical schools.

Educators credit a high economic demand for skilled workers and a more rigorous college-aligned curriculum for the spike. Enrollment trends also show more female students entering fields that typically are dominated by males.

What to know

Programs that train high school students to become electricians, carpenters and barbers are getting an enrollment bump at Long Island's career and technical schools.

Educators credit a high economic demand for skilled workers and a more rigorous college-aligned curriculum for the spike.

In the past two years, educators have noticed a demand in the construction trades, including carpentry, electric and HVAC.

At Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which serves students from 51 school districts, Career and Technical Education enrollment has grown from about 1,500 students in 2014 to close to 2,000 this school year. At Western Suffolk BOCES, there are more than 1,700 students, with high interest in the fields of transportation, construction and health care.

"There are so many more opportunities where we are preparing them for college and career readiness," said Nicole Zergebel, principal of the Bixhorn Technical Center in Bellport. "Not only are they leaving us with career and technical skills, but they are leaving us with strong academic skills and professionalism, no matter what future they explore."

Students can earn certifications and be ready for the workforce upon graduation.

The Bixhorn Technical Center in Bellport teaches everything from electrical work to how to become a barber. The center has seen an increase in female students enrolling in a few classes once dominated by males. Credit: Randee Daddona

Some other popular fields of study include culinary arts, app development, physical therapy aide, computer science — and even flying or working on aircraft. Along the way in the program, students can earn college credits, in case they choose to further their education.

Jose Campos, a student from the Brentwood school district, learns plumbing and...

Jose Campos, a student from the Brentwood school district, learns plumbing and heating at the Eastern Long Island Academy of Applied Technology at the Bixhorn Technical Center in Bellport. Credit: Randee Daddona

Students must meet bench marks

The Eastern Long Island Academy of Applied Technology, referred to as the Academy, is Eastern Suffolk BOCES' program, with locations in Bellport, Oakdale and Riverhead. High school juniors and seniors attend half-day programs and are transported there by their home districts, which pay on average $14,331 in tuition per student for them to attend.

Students apply for the program and have to meet bench marks and criteria set by their school districts, and the Academy. The Academy criteria include students being credit-ready for graduation, having good attendance, low disciplinary issues, and average grades. Some classes, such as nursing, have entrance requirements.

Over the past two years, educators have noticed a surge in construction trades, including carpentry, trade electric, welding, and Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC).

Students were on a waiting list to enter the two-year electric trade program, so a third two-year session at Riverhead was added this year. All the courses are at enrollment capacity.

Frank Esposito, a plumbing and heating instructor, spent a recent afternoon teaching students how to repair and build a hot-water heating system. It's a two-year program, and demand from employers is extremely high for the graduates, he said. At the successful completion of their second year, the students earn a certification that qualifies them for a union job.

"In 2010, everyone was pushing for kids to go to college, and the trades really weren't on an upswing. That has changed dramatically," Esposito said. "Now, we have fully packed programs, and students leave here with great experience and skills" to work in an industry that he said is "recession-proof."

Esposito said a six-figure salary is common in the plumbing and heating trades. The state Department of Labor reported that an experienced electrician on Long Island can make more than $100,000 annually.

Stephen Boscarino, 18, a senior at Mount Sinai High School, said a college path wasn't for him, "So, going into trades, I found plumbing and just fell in love. It was a really good option for me."

James Ricciardo Jr., who teaches a barber class and is an alumnus of the school, recently oversaw students mastering shaving techniques on mannequin heads as practice for the New York State Barber Licensing Exam.

Anthony Supliguicha, 18, of Bellport High School, shaves a mannequin in barbering...

Anthony Supliguicha, 18, of Bellport High School, shaves a mannequin in barbering class at the Bixhorn Technical Center in Bellport. Credit: Randee Daddona

The students "are easier to train in high school," Ricciardo said. "They are energetic, and they have a passion for it."

First female enrolled in HVAC program

More female students also are enrolling in the programs. At the Riverhead campus, the first female student is enrolled in the HVAC program, and one is in the new electric trade course.

Leah Arnold, director of Career and Technical Education and Adult Education for Eastern Suffolk, said the school aims to "showcase a diverse population in our courses" and has pushed for more equity and inclusivity among enrollees.

Joylyn Jun, 18, of Medford, wants to become an architect and thought gaining technical skills would help in her career pursuit.

"I felt that it was a good experience overall to learn plumbing and heating. It's useful," said Jun, a senior at Patchogue-Medford High School.

Julia DiGangi, 18, a senior at Eastport-South Manor High School, is the only female in the barbering class. She'd like to open her own shop, serving both men and women.

Julia DiGangi, 18, a senior at Eastport-South Manor High School,...

Julia DiGangi, 18, a senior at Eastport-South Manor High School, shaves a mannequin as she practices for her board exam at the Bixhorn Technical Center in Bellport. Credit: Randee Daddona

"I used to watch my dad get his hair cut and always wanted to grab the clippers out of his hand and just do it myself," she said. On being the only female in the class, "You kind of just do it. It doesn't matter if you are male or female."

Demand high in William Floyd district

Other career and technical education programs also are seeing renewed interest.

The William Floyd School District in eastern Suffolk runs its own career and tech programs at the high school, offering courses in automotive, carpentry, cosmetology, culinary arts and medical assisting. The program launched in 2012-13.

There are 210 juniors and 121 seniors enrolled this school term, and demand has been so high, school officials said, that courses such as cosmetology and carpentry have been added. Next school year, the district is bringing in two new programs: marine motor sports and personal training/nutritionist.

At Western Suffolk, enrollment has remained steady with about 1,755 students. But enrollment has jumped 16% in the transportation classes and 26% in the construction trades since 2016-17.

Hamza Latif, 17, a student in Western Suffolk BOCES' aviation program, works...

Hamza Latif, 17, a student in Western Suffolk BOCES' aviation program, works on a helicopter at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

In December, Western Suffolk added a helicopter to the fleet of aircraft available to secondary and adult students enrolled in the aviation programs taught at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. The program trains students to become private pilots or work in aircraft maintenance.

Western Suffolk received a $73,000 state grant to purchase the helicopter. In June, the program received a $43,400 state grant to purchase a helicopter simulator.

"The helicopter sector is an underserved segment of the industry," said Diana Santiago, aviation program manager and Federal Aviation Administration liaison at Western Suffolk. "Our goal is to become a niche helicopter training facility."

Nikolas Dundon, left, and Hamza Latif, both 17 and students in Western Suffolk...

Nikolas Dundon, left, and Hamza Latif, both 17 and students in Western Suffolk BOCES' aviation program, work on a helicopter in East Farmingdale. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Western Suffolk also has a drone certification program.

Nassau BOCES officials said enrollment has remained steady in their career tech programs, and have seen a boost at the Long Island High School for the Arts. The school has about 200 students, but is projected to have 300 in the fall.

Additionally, there are 1,306 students enrolled in the Joseph M. Barry Career & Technical Education Center in Westbury, which offers programs including carpentry and cosmetology, and 250 at the Gerald R. Claps Career & Technical Center in Levittown, which offers programs such as automotive technology and culinary arts.