Hands-on education offers local students a path to in-demand jobs

Ulster BOCES Auto Collision Technology students watch a sanding demonstration by Kingston Auto Supply/NAPA Auto representative Joe Chrys.

Saugerties High School senior James Jarman is one of nearly 1000 Ulster County students who study at the Boces Career & Technical Center. He has been enrolled in the auto collision program there since his junior year.

He first chose Boces because he didn’t feel he was getting the most out of a traditional education. “I was never really into the whole sitting in the classroom thing,” explained Jarman. “I was more hands-on. I’ve always liked fixing stuff and working on things. I wanted to go to Boces because home schooling wasn’t really for me, and I didn’t like doing math and English. You have to do those at Boces, but it’s geared more toward your career field.”

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Jarman initially enrolled in the auto collision program not as a possible career choice but because he thought the skills learned there might come in handy in everyday life. “I actually just kind of wanted to learn it at first as a side job or if I had to do work on my own vehicle, but then I kind of found a passion for doing it,” he said. “Everything fell into place. I really liked it and ended up getting a job at Starr Collision [in Saugerties].”

Boces officials say that students like Jarman are learning a trade while also completing high school. Some 93 percent of such students across the country graduate in their four-year cohort compared to just 80 percent of students in a traditional academic environment. In Ulster County those graduation figures are even higher, with 97 percent of students in CTE courses graduating in the 2017-18 school year. 

“Career and technical education is really in the same continuum as general education,” said Ulster Boces superintendent Charles Khoury. “Kids need a well-rounded exposure to a variety of subjects. The whole mantra a few years back was ‘college and career ready.’ And there’s certainly no better way to make a student college and career ready than to both participate in a rigorous academic program that’s partnered with a career and technical education center.”

Khoury said that roughly 26 percent of juniors and seniors in Ulster County take CTE courses, one of the highest figures in the state. 

Auto Collision Technology student James Jarman demonstrates how to paint a fender.

Ulster Boces students have more than two dozen areas of focus to choose from, including culinary arts, aviation, healthcare, engineering, robotics, welding, graphic arts and other forms of technology. Khoury said that most of the programs at Boces offer a path toward a career in high-demand fields both now and in the future. The skills learned are demanding, often in highly technological areas.
For many, there remains a misperception about what Boces is. “The hurdle we have is changing the perception of Boces,” Khoury said. “I went to high school in the Sixties, and the perception was if you couldn’t do it you went to trade and technical schools. And that’s no longer the case. It’s highly technical. Lots of computers, lots of technology in all of our classes.”

Boces also offers the chance to learn from people who have actually worked in their particular field. 

“We have an amazingly talented staff at the Career and Tech Center,” said Khoury. “Most of those people, the trades teachers, are coming out of the trades. They haven’t come to teaching through the traditional route. These are folks who as teachers are passionate about their subject, which is always infectious for a student. You sit in the classroom and you feed off the energy of the instructor.”

Khoury said the appeal for many of the students is similar to what Jarman described. “Problem-solving happens in every academic classroom and every career and technical classroom. It may not be as obvious in an academic classroom,” Khoury said. “There’s a problem to solve, and there is a tangible result. When kids are faced with a challenge of whatever the subject is: How do you weld two pieces of metal together? How do you run a circuit so that it operated from multiple switch places? And you get it done and it works, your confidence grows.”

Kids who may not have felt confident in their abilities when they entered the program feel confident when they leave the program, Khoury continued. “They’ve learned a new skill, they’ve solved a series of problems, and addressed a series of challenges that they learned when they were with us.”
That was certainly the case for Jarman. And in addition to problem solving and working in an advanced, hands-on field, he said, there was a certain satisfaction that comes from helping people. 

“Having a wrecked vehicle come in, it’s all busted up from being in an accident, and then seeing it go back to the way it was before,” Jaeman said. “I love that aspect of it. Customers just went through a traumatic experience having an accident. And then they get their car back and it’s fixed and looks new, that’s a big thing.”

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