The first class of Valley Tech’s new Engineering Technology program proudly gathered under a banner announcing the program’s national certification from Project Lead the Way, the nation’s leading provider of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education programs. Back row, left to right: Thomas Cavanaugh of Mendon, Matthew Bern of Upton, Conner Polymeros of Northbridge, Patrick Kennedy of Mendon, Anthony Cheschi of Milford, and Justin Thayer of Uxbridge.Middle row, left to right: Zachary Craven of Blackstone, Troy Lafond of Bellingham, Juliet Allegrezza of Mendon; Breanna Merrigan of Upton, Jaclyn Matellian of Upton, and Vanessa Trapasso of Upton.Front row, left to right: Ava Lawyer of Uxbridge, Ashley Hamilton of Millbury, James Richardson of Uxbridge, and Rosalyn Youssef of Millbury.
UPTON – It may be the newest shop at the 50-year-old school, but the Engineering Technology program at Blackstone Valley Tech has wasted no time in earning national accolades and placing its students on a launch pad to success.
Although extremely high public demand has filled the school to near capacity, Valley Tech began making room for the new program in the spring of 2014 by utilizing volunteers, internal expertise, and donated materials to convert existing space into a state-of-the-art engineering laboratory. A group of sixteen freshmen comprising 7 females and 9 males enrolled in the program in August 2014, and the Engineering Technology program was officially approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in March 2015.
As with all vocational technical programs, earning approval from DESE was a defining milestone for Valley Tech’s new career pathway.
“Vocational technical schools are uniquely capable of meeting the state’s strict standards for professional instruction, relevant technology, and student-immersion in a given trade,” explained Superintendent-Director Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick. “Meeting these standards ensures that our graduates get a significant head start on their chosen career pathways.”
Following approval as a Chapter 74 vocational technical education program, the Engineering Technology shop received national certification as a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program. The nation’s leading provider of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education programs, PLTW shares Valley Tech’s commitment to project-based education for the real world. Although nationally certified PLTW programs are typically approved in phases, the PLTW review team approved Valley Tech’s program immediately following an initial site visit. The school was applauded by PLTW for providing the Engineering Technology program with a high-tech laboratory, highly-trained instructors certified by PLTW, and strong administrative support. Several best practices were identified for potential replication in other PLTW schools.
National certification as a PLTW school makes BVT students eligible to earn up to 15 college credits recognized by more than 50 of PLTW’s college, university, and research partners, with additional college credits available via BVT’s extensive Advanced Placement offerings. According to Engineering Technology Team Leader Matthew Connors, the new program’s first class of students jumped at the opportunity to earn college credits by sitting for the national PLTW Intro to Engineering Design exam. Each BVT student scored Advanced or Proficient on the exam, with 9 students earning Advanced scores in the 95th percentile of students nationwide.
“I was truly impressed with how high their scores were,” Connors remarked. “It’s a testament to the effectiveness of a full-time, immersive program. This isn’t an elective; this is a program for students who picked this shop, who want to be here, and who are engaged in engineering. It’s an amazing environment.”
Final approval from both the state and PLTW marked the conclusion of Valley Tech’s ongoing effort to establish the in-demand program without recurring debt for its member towns. The challenging circumstances surrounding the program’s establishment are not lost on its first class of students, including Thomas Cavanaugh of Mendon. Cavanaugh been interested in science and engineering since the fourth grade, and was excited to see Valley Tech establish an Engineering Technology program in time for his freshmen year. As he and his classmates head into their second year in the brand new program, Cavanaugh said they are proud of their trailblazing roles.
“It’s like we’re the first people in space,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re pioneering Engineering Technology at Valley Tech.”
According to Superintendent-Director Fitzpatrick, Valley Tech is one of roughly a dozen schools statewide to host a nationally certified PLTW program. Citing the global economy’s growing demand for a high-skill STEM workforce, Fitzpatrick commended Valley Tech’s 13 member communities for expanding opportunities in STEM education.
Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School serves the towns of Bellingham, Blackstone, Douglas, Grafton, Hopedale, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Northbridge, Sutton, Upton and Uxbridge. Located in the heart of the Blackstone Valley, Blackstone Valley Tech creates a positive learning community that prepares students for personal and professional success in an internationally competitive society through a fusion of rigorous vocational, technical, and academic skills. The school’s website is www.valleytech.k12.ma.us.