HAVERHILL — Despite hosting Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, the city of Haverhill has been faced with a numbers problem.

With only so many slots available for Haverhill kids at that school, many students in the school district are not receiving the vocational education they want to prepare them for careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — fields.

But thanks to a portion of a $9.3 million state grant distributed to 35 institutions from the office of Gov. Charlie Baker, dozens of Hillies have been given the opportunity to pursue studies in health care occupations as well as programming and web development, and courses in computer networking and robotics in the NAF Academy of Information Technology curriculum at the high school in what is now known as the Career Technical Education Center.

Approved in February, the state’s 2016 Workforce Skills Capital Grant Program awarded $218,671 for Haverhill High School to purchase equipment to expand the IT academy, train students in health care fields, as well as purchase 3D printers, advanced level robotics kits, a new computer lab, and to provide early college STEM courses.

On hand for the program’s formal ribbon cutting at the high school Thursday was Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash, Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker, and Education Secretary Jim Peyser, all of whom were impressed to see how far the high school had stretched its dollars.

Joining Haverhill Superintendent James Scully and Assistant Superintendent Jared Fulgoni at the high school were local leaders including Mayor James Fiorentini, School Committee members Maura Ryan-Ciardiello and Shaun Toohey, and City Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua, as well as state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, and staff members from the offices of state Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, and state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport.

Fiorentini said city leaders have been discussing ways to improve vocational technical offerings to city students for 13 years.

“We still have 100 kids who want a vocational-technical education but can’t get into Whittier,” said the mayor as he walked with a caravan of people through the iSchool, a state of the art computer lab for CTE students. “This is a high school, and education is what it’s here for.”

Bevilacqua, the president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, concurred.

“This is exactly where the future is. A combination of work and education,” he said. “This is the model.”

Following Polito’s employing the “biggest pair of scissors she’d ever held” to cut the large red ribbon in the doorway of one of the health care classrooms, Toohey, a graduate of Greater Lawrence Technical School, praised the efforts of the Baker administration.

“This is a terrific program, but (the district) couldn’t have done it without the Gov. Baker and Lt. Gov. Polito,” said Toohey. “It’s exciting.”

Toohey added that increasing vocational-technical offerings will have a direct impact on reducing the high school’s dropout rate.

After Polito, Ash, and Co. touted the new offerings and praised the high school’s regionally renowned robotics team, students in attendance in the HHS library spoke of what the new programs have meant to them.

Bailey Peck, a senior who is planning on attending UMass Amherst next year to major in criminal justice, is working on getting his emergency medical technician (EMT) certification through the high school in addition to his coursework.

“My dad’s a paramedic, so I’ve always been around it and it’s always been a big deal,” he said.

Olivia Bene, a sophomore enrolled in the school’s Information Technology Pathway, and Victoria Martinez, a freshman in the high school’s health care program, are thankful for the opportunities provided to them by the state grant.

“It’s incredible they funded all of the things we get to do here,” said Bene, whose classes are currently working on constructing a 3D printer which they will then use to make replicas of everyday items. “In our senior year, we’ll begin a STEM capstone project for our certification

Martinez, who was dressed in red scrubs Thursday as part of her coursework, wants to become a registered nurse or a pediatrician, and said it was an honor for state officials to come visit her program.

“I appreciate how they put in the time to come here,” she said, adding her first-year coursework consists of patient preparation and by her senior year she will be able to intern at a local hospital.

Follow Peter Francis on Twitter @PeterMFrancis and on Tout @PFrancis

Recommended for you