As Stigma Declines, Midcoast Vocational School Enrollment Grows

Bath Tech students are exploring their new workspace by moving into their new school in February 2021. Kathleen O’Brien / The time record

Bath Tech, a vocational and technical education center within Morse High School, has seen a steady increase in enrollments as the stigma surrounding vocational education and the skilled trades dissipates.

In 2018, 154 students were enrolled in one of Bath Tech’s programs. The following year, the centre’s enrollment rose to 209, then 223 students in 2020, according to Bath Tech director Julie Kenny. This year, Bath Tech has 273 students enrolled.

Bath Tech offers nine vocational and technical education courses for students enrolled in Morse High School, Boothbay Area High School, Lincoln Academy and Wiscasset High School. The school’s offerings include welding, electricity, culinary arts, and early childhood education, among others.

Kenny said she believes the stigma that students who choose vocational training don’t go on to college or aren’t smart enough to follow a traditional academic path is diminishing. This fading prejudice helps to open the minds of students to consider vocational and technical training.

“I think the connection with community colleges and vocational and technical education has made people more aware of the different paths a person can take after completing a vocational and technical education program,” Kenny said.

She said guidance counselors no longer focus on college as an endgame, and uncovering a student’s career goals, and then chart the best course forward.

“It helps parents see that their student can still go to college if they want to become an electrician,” Kenny said. “They can still go to a four-year college if they want to do any of the trades. It’s just a different way of doing it.

Sophia Barber and Lexie Hall, health science students at Bath Tech.

Historically less popular programs are gaining more and more student attention, Kenny said.

“For years the automotive and health sciences were our main programs that got filled up, but now the trend we’re seeing is welding and electricity are usually the first to fill up,” Kenny said. “This year we have seen a huge increase in early childhood education, graphic design and engineering.”

In the old school building, the technical center was next to the Morse high school rather than inside. In the new Bath Tech, English classrooms and biology labs share a hallway with automotive and electrical workspaces.

“Where Bath Tech stood on the outskirts of the Morse Building, our programs are now closely linked to the Morse community, providing the opportunity for staff to work together and collaborate to educate our students,” Kenny said at the ceremony. inauguration of the new school. Last week. “The increased visibility of our programs has had a clear impact on students as we have seen a 25% increase in enrollment in just one year, with 41% of 11th and 12th graders in Morse code currently attending Bath Tech programs. “

In neighboring Brunswick, the technical high school of region 10 had 263 students enrolled in 2019 and 261 students in 2020. This year, enrollments in region 10 have jumped to 302 students, according to superintendent and principal Paul Perzanoski.

Region 10 is a technical high school that opens enrollment to students of Mount Ararat, Brunswick High School, Freeport High School, and Harpswell Coastal Academy. The school offers 15 programs, including metal fabrication and welding, certified nursing assistants, and auto collisions and repairs.

Like Kenny, Perzanoski said he has seen the stigma surrounding the skilled trades fade, but added that he believes the COVID-19 pandemic “has also increased interest and credibility in the trades.”

“People saw that in many technical jobs, people were still working during the pandemic rather than being made redundant or having their workplace cut off,” Perzanoski said. “Construction is booming and it is now difficult to find a plumber or an electrician.

Perzanoski said students who choose to learn a skilled trade often end up in better financial health than their classmates who enroll in a four-year college.

D’Nisha Dawkins, Culinary Arts student at Bath Tech. Photo courtesy of Julie Kenny.

“Kids who go to college graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but kids who enter the workforce or trades have little or no debt and are financially strong in debt. young age, ”said Perzanoski.

As Bath Tech and Region 10 continue to welcome more students, the number of vocational students in the country has recently fallen.

According to data from the US Department of Education, 8.8 million students were enrolled in a vocational and technical secondary school during the 2017-18 school year. The following year, that number increased slightly to 8.9 million.

In the 2019-2020 school year, however, the number of secondary vocational education enrollments in the United States fell to 7.5 million, according to the United States Department of Education.

Kenny said she was not worried about the drop in enrollment in Maine.

“Right now we’re in a place where the workforce is so important at all levels and a lot of jobs have leveled off in respect,” Kenny said.

“I think people are investing to try to create the workforce we need and know that we have to focus on our high school students to see a change,” she said. “We certainly have students who are very excited to start a career right out of high school. “

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