NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 19, 2012

Whittier Vo-Tech, a gem that many overlook

As I See It
Sara-Anne Eames

---- — Every year that I live in Newburyport, I find new things that I’ve never explored. I would like to share a most recent find with you. I have eaten at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School’s Poet’s Inn and had the delicious food offered by the Culinary Arts students. But I had no idea of the educational opportunities and the career/work expertise that is available at this wonderful school.

Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting Eileen Lawton, a journalism teacher, at Whittier. She had offered to show me the entire school and I enthusiastically responded. It has always amazed me that I had seen so little news printed in the paper about the wonderful opportunities and activities available to our local students at this facility.

I was advised by school personnel that during 2013 Whittier will celebrate its 40th anniversary. What a celebration! Ninety percent of Whittier Tech students who took the English MCAS last spring scored in the advanced proficiency category. On math scores for the 2014 graduating class, they exceeded the year before in both English and math and passing rates were significantly higher than state averages.

Their outside school projects are very successful and cost-effective. Electrical students went to Hill View Montessori Charter School in Haverhill and installed SmartBoards and projectors, mounted a large-screen TV and this fall will renovate their kitchen. These projects are being done by four seniors in electrical technology and they helped keep expenses down for the charter school. Dozens of community service projects are completed by Whittier students every year.

Seventeen students worked on the Amesbury Little League’s concession stand behind Cashman Elementary School. They installed three new fiberglass doors with hardware and locks and covered all the trim with new vinyl siding.

I observed a full-size home being built in the carpentry shop at Whittier. This project is done during junior and senior years at school. Academic classes in algebra, English, science and computer science were in session during my tour. Many graduates go on to leading colleges and training programs.

Whittier educates students from 11 area cities and towns, offering skill and specialized training in 19 fields. One can graduate with a high school diploma and an industry certificate. There are 120 highly qualified teachers who can instruct in health care, electronics, robotics, carpentry, cosmetology, electrical, CAD drafting, culinary arts, etc. Students gain the necessary knowledge to pass any English, math and science MCAS tests required for a diploma. Students can earn college credits and receive valuable job experience by qualifying for paid co-op jobs as early as their junior year.

“Working on Your Future” is an outstanding motto for this remarkable school. The students participate in the Santa Parade every year with an innovative float. They win a prize every year. I saw this year’s float, and it will surpass past years, I am sure.

In their library above the books and one next to another are wonderful murals of various shapes of colors completed by the art students. The Drama Club is performing “High School Musical 2” on March 15-17. The first tryouts were held on the day I had my tour, Nov. 14.

In sports programs, all students are given an opportunity to participate. Vocational education may be more expensive what with the technology, machinery, computers, etc., which cost more than textbooks; however, the job opportunities upon graduation, especially in our current job market, are well worth it.

Whittier, “a must-see” for all students getting ready for high school as a viable, workable and highly rewarding choice/option.

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Sara-Anne Eames lives in Newburyport.