I am the very proud principal of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center (HACTC). And I have a confession to make.
I get annoyed when people call our school a ‘Vocational School’ or ‘VoTech.’
I don’t know why I get annoyed.
I should be more understanding.
Especially as the school leader.
After all, when I went there, it was called a ‘Vocational School’ as it was for so many who now use that moniker when referencing us.
Back then, as a ‘Vocational School’, people thought the school did only what its name implied: It prepared students for a vocation.
However, those same people also thought the preparation was in stand-alone curriculums focused only on getting students ready to enter the world of work. And entry-level work at that.
And they also thought the preparation for a vocation was just for students who did not succeed in regular educational settings. Who were sent to the ‘Vocational School’ or ‘VoTech’ to limit their disruption to the college-bound students in the regular high school.
In short, we were sent there, to the ‘VoTech’, to make ashtrays and bird houses.
And stay out of the way of the ‘smart’ kids.
Kids destined for college.
Yes, that is a bit of a hyperbole.
And a bitter one.
And probably inaccurate.
But maybe not.
Well, probably not.
It was accurate.
I lived it. And felt it.
And I still feel it.
As the school leader.
For the current students at the HACTC.
And admittedly do so thinking back to 1988.
And I want more for them. For my students. For their talents. And for their learning style.
Then, in 1988, there was a huge misunderstanding of what the ‘Vocational School’ actually did.
When I went there, I was not prepared for just the world of work, like its name implied or what ‘those people’ thought.
I was prepared for life. And challenges. And successes.
Did I say that already? That I was prepared for life?
I was prepared by Mr. Art Nadeau. My Drafting teacher.
Thank you, Art, for not believing the bullshit stereotype for the then 'Vocational Students.’
In your class there were no birdhouses or ashtrays. There were just expectations. High expectations.
For problem solving.
You made me feel worthy. And not stupid. And not ‘hyperactive.’ And not crazy. And valued.
Despite my main learning medium: my hands.
My consistently dirty hands.
Work that soap could not wash away.
Yes, you made me feel loved in an educational setting.
And that I could go to college.
If I wanted to.
Or to the world of work.
If I wanted to.
Or the military.
If I wanted to.
Because all three had value.
The same value.
One was no better than the other two. Despite what the larger educational culture of the time suggested or implied or said.
And I was prepared for them all.
Just like what happens now for students attending the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center.
A Career and Technology Center.
Career and Technology Education (CTE).
Not a ‘Vocational Center' or a 'VoTech.'
But still largely misunderstood.
Much like 1988.
With its now current and incredible educators.
My amazing teammates.
Who are a lot like Mr. Nadeau.
Well, exactly like him, actually.
And preparing them in shared curriculums between programs and community professionals. For Two-year colleges. Four-year colleges and universities. Post-Secondary Trade Schools. Post-Secondary Technical Schools. NASCAR School. The Military (but not grunt-level service). And yes, the world of employment.
But not entry level jobs.
Even though there is nothing wrong with that, is there Mr. Nadeau? Preparing students for work.
Even entry-level work.
'All work has value. Even the most mundane. As it gives the worker a sense of belonging. And community. And that sense strengthens us all, doesn’t it?'
Quote from Mr. Nadeau.
And also, more or less, from Mike Redington.
My predecessor as Director of the HACTC.
And my mentor.
Like in their time, today's programs at the HACTC have concurrent enrollments - college classes - embedded in the curriculums.
Most students leave with at least three (sometimes twelve) college credits transcriptable to colleges and universities.
Well, those who are not full of themselves (@UVM, @Middleburycollege @St.Michael's...my alma mater..that I love but am annoyed with).
And believe learning can only occur in their environment.
Their ‘academic’ environment. Their protected environment.
Where theory never meets practicality. Unless accidentally. Accidentally in their 'Privateness.'
And HACTC students also leave with multiple Industry Recognized Credentials.
And Cooperative Education experiences.
And the potential to utilize Articulation Agreements between the HACTC and Post-Secondary colleges and universities.
Again, with the good ones. The ones not full of themselves.
And HACTC students gain high school credits beyond those identified by their sending high school as simply ‘elective.’
These are all things that CTE has done for forty years.
Things that regular high schools are now just offering and starting to focus on.
Vermont Act 77.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, eh?
Nice work, CTE. Nice work.
Even in 1988.
So, in the end, I guess call us whatever you want.
‘Vocational’, ‘VoTech’, or ‘CTE’.
My annoyance is my own. Not anyone else's.
It is based not in the name, I guess, but in the misunderstanding.
The misunderstanding of what our amazing students do in our school and what they learn and is available to them after they graduate.
And misunderstanding is... well...understandable.
But I do hope it clears up soon.
For our students' benefit.