Pic 1) senior cosmetology student, Melissa Teto, 18 of gardner

Pic 2) senior cosmetology student, Lakisha Duenas of fitchburg

Pic 3) drafting dept model designed for a cafe courtyard designed by students

By Julia Kacmarek

jkacmarek@nashobapub.com

HARVARD -- Each year, Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School allows for up to 16 Harvard students per grade level (64 total), per year to pursue education and vocational training in 20 different hands-on fields.

Today, only three Harvard residents are enrolled in Monty Tech.

"Monty Tech stands ready to educate and embrace our young people with hands-on learning and high academic standards," Joann Sueltenfuss, Harvard representative for the Monty Tech School Committee, said.

Students are required to take a full scope of academic classes in all of the required fields, while also spending significant amounts of time in vocational training.

Students are able to choose from multiple technical trades including dental assisting, auto body and auto technology, welding, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, cosmetology, drafting technology and culinary, to name a few.

"Students spend a week in their field and the following week in a double block schedule of academics," outgoing director of vocational training Richard Nutt said.

This ensures that students at Monty Tech are receiving the same amount of academic hours as students at any other public school.

Nutt said students work in their trades for up to 1,620 hours over four years. Freshman year hours are not counted since students may explore different trades until February of their freshman year.

These training hours are important to many of the areas in which students will eventually work. Plumbing, for example, requires five years of on-the-job employment, 550 hours of classroom training done in six years in order to apply for the state exam to become a certified plumber. A student in the plumbing program at Monty Tech may graduate with up to 330 classroom training hours, and one full year of an apprenticeship leaving them steps ahead of others just starting out.

Monty Tech also offers service opportunities open to all members of the district's community. Among them, a restaurant, hair and nail salon, auto body and tech shop, computer technology services, school store and a childcare center, all run by students in the corresponding trades.

Each department allows students to graduate with real world experience as many students spend their training weeks doing cooperative training, or "Co-ops" with outside businesses and organizations. These hours are paid positions by the employer.

Business technology teacher Angela Ikonen said her students have trained in many places including Aubuchon Hardware, Leominster Credit Union and the Monty Tech school store where students are in charge of inventory, cashing in and out drawers and store management. "They learn retail, money, finances, office management, and they really get the whole feel for an office with some business entrepreneurship," she said

Instructors at Monty Tech can attest to the success the school provides for its students.

Genevieve Castillo graduated from the drafting program, for example, and then went to Fitchburg State College. She worked as an architectural designer for seven years and has worked as a teacher for the drafting program at Monty Tech for five years now. She explained why she chose Monty Tech rather than her public school in Hubbardston.

"I was a straight A student all of the time, but I came to Monty Tech because I wanted to do drafting," she said. "I think the major advantage of coming to Monty Tech is that you can discover what you want to do early on and get the connections you may need to get launched into the career you want."

"A lot of kids go to college right after high school and they may not start their career until age 22," she said. "I was able to start at 17 with a 401K and benefits. Monty Tech just gets you more engaged in your career at an earlier age."

"One common misconception is that this is not a public school. This is a publicly supported school," Superintendent Steve Sharek said. "A lot of people think there is some sort of tuition to come here, no. Our kids still have to go through four years of high school like everybody else. They have to take the MCAS like everybody else, and in addition, they have all of their vocational trades as well, which many require tests in their particular field to get certified."

Students are able to change their trade up until the beginning of their junior year, allowing them to test areas for two years until they must commit.

Monty Tech also hosts a junior ROTC program as well as continuing education and night classes for adults.

Monty Tech serves 18 cities and towns, including Harvard. Sueltenfuss hopes more families will consider Monty Tech as a school choice for their students in the future.

As Harvard has always been a part of the Monty Tech school district, the low enrollment from Harvard may have something to do with awareness. "We have never had a lot of students from Harvard and we are always trying to change that," publicist and communications specialist Beth Martellota said.

Nutt spoke about the value of technical schools today by stressing the difficulty of employment in today's economy.

"Monty Tech is a viable option for both students that want to learn a trade and go on to work or go on to college," Nutt said. "You read so much today about people with college degrees not being able to find jobs or the jobs that they do find are not related to their degree. I think the more options you give students, the more productive they can be."

From 6-8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28, Monty Tech will host a Career Awareness Night for interested students and parents from the corresponding districts to come and tour the school. During the day, students from district schools, including Bromfield, are invited to attend.

"Classes are not scheduled that day and kids get to file through the shops and get a real feel for what it is like," Martellota said. "I think people may have an outdated view of what vocational tech schools are."

Monty Tech would like to change that.

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