Published in the Current; co-written with Kate Irish Collins
Dustin Perreault, a senior at Scarborough High School, wants to be a diesel engine technician. He already has a job waiting for him after graduation in June and credits the auto body program at the Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS) for getting him ready.
Perreault is among 26 Scarborough students and nine Cape Elizabeth students attending PATHS this year. These students are learning trades from video production to fashion merchandising to commercial art. Other programs include dance and music, horticulture and masonry.
Students at SHS have the opportunity to learn a skill or trade by attending either PATHS or the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center. “These two schools offer our students 27 different programs that we would not be able to produce locally,” said Scarborough schools Assistant Superintendent David Doyle. No students from Cape attend Westbrook Vocational.
Both Scarborough and Cape students attending vocational classes still earn their core credits in English, math, social studies, science and physical education at their hometown high schools.
Value for the dollar
Scarborough pays $140,533 for students to attend these vocational programs. The amount each sending school is assessed is based on a percentage of the average number of students that have attended over the past two years. “The amount we spend is less than one percent of the overall operating budget,” Doyle said.
Cape Elizabeth pays $84,124 for students to attend PATHS. “It’s really a bargain,” said Cape School Board member Kevin Sweeney, who is also chair of the PATHS general advisory council. “PATHS offers a huge number of programs,” Sweeney said. In the fall, the school will add a biotechnology program, in response to demand from Maine’s growing biotech sector for qualified workers. None of those programs, Sweeney said, could be offered in Cape. CEHS Principal Jeff Shedd wants students to consider PATHS more frequently. “I think our guidance counselors would like more students to go to PATHS,” Shedd said.
“It’s such a huge bargain for the buck,” Cal Chaplin, PATHS director, said. “Kids come here thinking they’re not students. At this school, they begin to see themselves as smart,” she said.
Westbrook offers programs in such trades as business and computer technology, driving commercial vehicles, automotives and the culinary arts. Westbrook has a restaurant that is open to the public and marketing students run the school store which brings in around $50,000 a year, said Westbrook Vocational Principal Todd Fields.
“We also offer medical occupations and students can graduate with a minimum of a certified nurse assistant’s training,” Fields said.
PATHS serves 544 students from 23 high schools in Cumberland County and the town of Kennebunk in York County and was started in 1976. Westbrook Regional Vocational first opened its doors in 1963 and went through a renovation and addition project three years ago.
“Students at Scarborough self-select one of the two vocational schools to attend, depending on their talents and interests. Students are given a chance to tour each school and meet with perspective teachers,” Doyle said.
“This is a school of choice, which makes a big difference,” said PATHS guidance counselor, Frank Ingerowski. “The numbers are up in each program. We’re seeing a significant push towards learning a trade.”
“We do encourage our students to get a post-secondary education, mostly at the technical college level. We also have a number of students who do go into the work force after graduation and others choose the military,” he added.
“We encourage them to be in the business world,” Chaplin said. She is concerned that parents and students don’t think of PATHS when considering high school courses. “I think there’s a lot of educating we can do to attract more students,” Chaplin said.
Each of the school’s 24 programs has four or five business partners, who help make sure the skills students are learning are the ones they will use in the marketplace. Some businesses also offer internships or job-shadowing experience to PATHS students. “We’re constantly connected,” Chaplin said.
A food program also trains special education students to work in food service. “We cook here, we prep here,” said Cape Elizabeth student Paul Sandberg, gesturing to different sections of the kitchen. For the Thanksgiving harvest meal, the food workers served 700 people.
“I like it a lot. It’s more hands-on,” said Eddie Robbins, a junior at Cape Elizabeth High School in his third year at PATHS. He completed horticulture, and is now working on video production. The two and a half hours go quickly, he said. “It feels like a half-hour,” Robbins said.
“You get to really get involved with what you’re interested in,” said Derek Danie, a Cape sophomore in his first program, working with computers.
Scarborough senior Perreault would recommend the program at PATHS to others. “This is a great program if you like working with cars, especially restoration or collision work,” Perrault said. Perrault admits to missing some things at Scarborough High, but most of his friends are at PATHS.
Josie Hastings is a junior at Scarborough and is in the fashion-merchandising program at PATHS. She intends to go to Brooks College in California after graduation. “There’s more freedom here. I like it a lot better than Scarborough,” Hastings said.
Scarborough junior Joe Ellis is in the video technology program and is learning how to create professional video productions such as commercials and documentaries. “I love this place. I wish that I could take some of the basics here too,” Ellis said. “It was a little strange at first, traveling between the two schools, but now it’s easy. I would definitely recommend it here,” he added.