BOCES Tech Center Offers Alternative Career Path

Seventeen Haldane High School students currently enrolled

By Michael Turton

A betting person could probably make some easy money wagering that many local residents could not name two or more of the myriad programs and services that BOCES offers students, teachers and administrators in the Haldane Central School District. Even more cash could be realized with a further wager — betting against people knowing what BOCES stands for — Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Established in 1948 to provide shared educational programs and services, 37 BOCES now serve school districts across New York state. Haldane and 16 other districts, including Garrison and Putnam Valley, are part of the Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES (PNW BOCES) located in Yorktown Heights. Its programs are diverse to say the least. BOCES provides much of the professional development curriculum for Haldane’s teachers and administrators.

When Haldane recently opted to increase the Internet bandwidth serving its campus, it was BOCES that provided the upgrade. A sampling of BOCES student-oriented programs includes special education, Fox Meadow (an alternative high school) and adult and continuing education. One of BOCES’ flagship education programs is the Career and Technical Education Center located at its Yorktown Heights campus.

Tech Center can be a path to a job

Deciding a career path can be daunting, but for some students, BOCES’ Tech Center can impart skills that can either lead directly to a job or be the stepping stone to further education. Juniors and seniors participate in Tech Center courses as an extension of their regular high school program. Juniors usually attend one two-hour session per day while seniors can attend a four-hour program, earning up to 16 college credits. Forty programs are offered within 10 “academies” that cover a broad range of professions, including business, construction, communications, cosmetology, English, environmental science, health, hospitality, teaching and transportation. About 1,200 students attend The Tech Center; 17 of those students are from Haldane.

BOCES viewed in a different light

A common myth about BOCES has been that its students are not college material. “About 80 percent of our students go on to college,” said Catherine Balestrieri, director of Career and Technical Education. “Fifteen percent go directly into jobs related to their field.” The remaining 5 percent join the military or pursue other options.

“There has been a real shift in the kids. They are highly motivated,” Balestrieri said. “We’re getting away from the stigma about ‘a trade means you don’t go to college.’ We’re also seeing a change in (parents’) thinking. They want their kids to go off to college knowing where they are headed.”

Transportation, including auto mechanics, is one of several highly popular programs. Because that field is so computer-oriented, many from that program go onto college, including Charley Claffey, a junior at Haldane. “I want to attend UTI (Universal Technical Institute) in Boston after high school,” said Claffey, who also works part-time at Elmesco Citgo in Cold Spring.

Haldane senior John Azznara studies culinary arts at BOCES. 

Haldane senior John Azznara studies culinary arts at BOCES.

The culinary program “is huge” in Balestrieri’s words, with many students earning scholarships after completing the program. Haldane senior John Azznara said it’s rigorous. “It’s pretty tough. The chefs really know what they’re doing and they train us very well. They demand that we act professionally at all times.” Azznara works part-time as a line cook at Whistling Willie’s in Cold Spring and plans on studying business and marketing at Westchester Community College. “Then I want to go to Louisiana Culinary Institute,” he said. Two Haldane juniors, Brianna Di Francesco and Giana Grandetti, are also in the culinary arts program and are getting some real-world experience at Whistling Willie’s as well, as part-time hostess and busing tables.

Health programs have also boomed in the past two years, according to Balestrieri. A big believer in that program is former Haldane School Board President Dave Merandy, whose son Kyle attended BOCES. “He got his LPN (licensed practical nurse license) through BOCES, then attended SUNY Alfred; got his RN (registered nurse license) and then did a three-year program at SUNY Buffalo. He’s now a nurse practitioner at New York Presbyterian Hospital,” Merandy said. “The mainstream curriculum was of no interest to him. Without BOCES, I’m not sure where he would be right now.”

New visions

While some students prefer the hands-on aspects of job training, strong academic students are now also considering BOCES. New Visions is a rigorous one-year program for college-bound seniors. Students earn honors, Advanced Placement and college credit while working with industry professionals, often in on-the-job settings. Areas of study include health, environmental science, education and engineering. Students also receive academic instruction in English, government and economics.

A career summer camp

Charley Claffey, left, and Carlos Perez are juniors at Haldane studying auto mechanics at BOCES.

Charley Claffey, left, and Carlos Perez are juniors at Haldane studying auto mechanics at BOCES.

BOCES makes a pitch to sophomore students each year, but it also gets younger kids thinking about careers. A summer camp for 12- to 15-year-olds offers four camp sessions covering a range of careers, including animation, architectural design, auto mechanics, culinary arts, computer graphics, fashion design, beauty and hairstyling, law enforcement, metalworking, medical, robotics and sports medicine. “It exposes kids to careers … and to think about what they want to do in the future,” Balestrieri said. The program has also proven to be a good marketing tool. “Kids are coming back to us in the 11th grade, pretty set on what they want to do.”

Shaping new courses

Trends in business and industry, as well as student interests, change constantly. BOCES uses industry professionals and students themselves in developing new courses. Every program has at least five advisors from industry who provide up-to-date information on trends in their fields.

Students provide input as well. “They ask about new courses, from sports medicine to veterinary technician,” Balestrieri said. “We also consult with BOCES across the state. Sports medicine for example, is really booming on Long Island.”

Competitions show off talent

In January, a team from PNW BOCES competed the Hudson Valley First Tech Challenge at Pace University. Each team entered a robot developed over several months, using aluminum, polycarbonate, motors and servos, sensors and other materials. BOCES placed second among 40 teams. Skills USA, a national nonprofit that helps students prepare for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, recently held a project-based competition in Kansas City where PNW BOCES finished second in television production. Seventy BOCES students are currently members of the National Technical Honors Society.

Principal weighs in

Brianna Di Francseco, left, and Giana Grandetti are juniors at Haldane enrolled in the culinary arts program at BOCES.

Brianna Di Francseco, left, and Giana Grandetti are juniors at Haldane enrolled in the culinary arts program at BOCES.

Haldane High School Principal Brian Alm sees practical advantages to BOCES, both for students headed directly to a job and those continuing their education. “They do an excellent job giving students immediate, employable skills. And some of our more savvy college-bound students have decided to pull in a living wage with their skills or certification from BOCES while attending school full-time,” Alm said. “Welding or carpentry at $30 an hour certainly offsets college costs more than $8 an hour in retail. This is really happening. I think it’s amazing.”

Haldane enrollment in Tech Center programs has increased in recent years, but Alm says there are still misconceptions. “There is less of a stigma than there used to be, (however) there are always a few families surprised by what profound opportunities exist within BOCES programs,” he said. “Even though our numbers are up, I am always pained when I see a student who I think ‘missed the boat’ and passed up the TechCenter.”

Students pay no tuition for attending BOCES programs. Cost is included in the pro-rated budget contributions made to PNW BOCES by the 18 member school districts. Learn more at the PNW BOCES website at pnwboces.org.

Photos by M. Turton


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