Monday, June 3, 2013

Something Special in Worcester

On a recent training trip to the United States, I visited the city of Worcester in the state of Massachusetts. With a population of about 180,000, this former manufacturing hub is today a center of excellence for higher education, healthcare and medical research.  While there is a lot going on in Worcester, most notably the various attempts to reinvent the city, what I found more interesting were the programs offered for young people.  My training colleagues and I interacted with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, Y.O.U. Inc (Youth Opportunities Upheld) and visited a youth center, all of them with   an overall goal to groom their youth into mature, well adjusted, responsible and productive members of the community.
The highlight of the visit for me was a trip to the Worcester Technical High School.  The school is exceptional and a model of what technical education ought to be.

First of all, although a vocational school, it has a rigorous academic curriculum, and students are required to excel in both fields.  The school has twenty four technical programs under four departments: design and engineering, allied health and human services, construction technology and information technology and business services.

The great thing about the school is the way students acquire real life, practical experience.  It does this by creating real businesses in the various fields, business that the students run and maintain.  For example, the school has an auto mechanic workshop open to the public, where students work servicing vehicles to paying customers.  We even saw a vehicle belonging to Worcester police waiting to be serviced!

Worcester Technical High School also runs the skyline Bistro restaurant, also open to the public.  Here the students operate not only the restaurant but the cafeteria (for students and teachers) as well as the bakery.  We had a delicious lunch of choice of baked fillet of haddock, skewered chicken kebabs and falafel, and the restaurant was full, which suggests that it is popular in the community.  Related to this, hospitality students are responsible for the management of the restaurant and a conference center with three small breakout rooms where school and city meetings are held.

Since the school has a cosmetology department, it also runs a salon where members of the community can have their hair cut and styled, or have other beauty routines done, such as manicure and pedicures.  Students also manage a bank, and a very unique veterinary clinic that only accepts animals from indigent members of the community.

One might think that with all this practical work the student’s academic work would suffer, but that’s not the case.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Over seventy percent of the students do exceptionally well in Math and English on the States Assessment System, and they continue to do well and improve with each year.

The performance of the students is evident in the school’s winning of the 2013 VEX Robotics World Championships trophy in April 2013.  The Robotics and automation technology team designed and built their machines and participated in a number of competitions before the final in California.  Most of the work that went into the project was done after school, which is commendable for such young people.

On our way out I saw a notice board where flags of the different nationalities of their student body was displayed and was particularly pleased to see the Nigerian green white green.  I’m happy a Nigerian kid is benefitting from this great education and hope that one day he or she will return home to contribute to the growth of their homeland.

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