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Union Leader- ‘Puttying over the cracks’ to prepare student for work

For Immediate Release
March 15, 2020

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By Michael Cousineau

Launching this fall, school will help pupils get college credit.

Victoria Abate couldn’t have baked a better opportunity.

The Laconia High School junior spent the last two school years learning culinary arts at the Huot Technical Center in Laconia.

Now, the 17-year-old who loves to bake is in the process of applying to the new New Hampshire Career Academy in hopes of finishing her high school career while gaining credits toward an associate degree.

"I think it’s a great opportunity for students to follow and help guide them on what they think they want to do in life," Victoria’s mother, Michelle, said by phone.

The state is launching the career academy this fall, allowing high school seniors to complete their high school graduation requirements while also earning college credits. They can earn an associate degree by continuing their studies for an additional year beyond high school.

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut called it "puttying over the cracks" between students' high school years and their next steps, be it in a classroom or the workplace.

"This is just among a variety of pathways that you’re creating for students to go forward," Edelblut said in an interview. "It’s more just continuing to connect up the dots."

This fall, 40 students, to be chosen by lottery, will spend their next two years completing their high school work and earning enough credits to receive an associate’s degree.

Interest has produced more than 100 inquiries and 14 completed applications as of Friday, department spokesman Grant Bosse said.

Applications are due April 1.

There is no cost to students. The state typically provides state adequacy grants for public school students, so instead of paying it to a student’s home district, that money will go toward college tuition and to help pay administrative costs.

"The student or parents are going to save on student loans, anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000," said Michelle Abate. "I’m still repaying loans from when I was a kid."

Her daughter is a member of the National Honor Society and wants to study the pastry arts.

Employers struggling during a severe labor shortage are supporting the academy.

The New Hampshire Hospital Association and several hospital human resource leaders recently met with Edelblut to discuss becoming involved in the career academy, according to Kathy Bizarro-Thunberg, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association.

"Topics discussed included the types of health care professions that may be available to students through the Career Academy, the opportunity to collaborate with hospitals to conduct informational interviews with the students and a request to financially support some of the fees that the students may incur (such as books, laboratory costs and items such as lab coats, goggles, stethoscopes, etc)," she said in an email.

"Hospitals are interested in partnering with the community college system and the NH Department of Education in any effort designed to create interest in our young people to pursue health careers," she said. “The New Hampshire Career Academy is an innovative concept and the hospitals look forward to its implementation.”

Edelblut expects "good candidates" for the academy to be kids succeeding and struggling in high school.

"I have students who are in 11th grade who have accumulated all of the credits that they need at the secondary level to graduate from high school because these are high performing kids," Edelblut said.

"And really down on the other end of the bell curve there, I have students, they are not connecting well with their high school for whatever reason," he said. "They’re looking for an opportunity to move on and what we want to make sure is we keep them on a mission focus."

Students can participate in activities in their home district, such as the prom or sports.

But that doesn’t mean skipping their college courses.

"If the bus leaves for the soccer game at 1:30 in the afternoon because they have an away game, if you’ve got class, you’ve got to go to your college class," Edelblut said.

His office wasn’t making enrollment projections beyond the initial school year.

"We have to be willing to try innovative ideas and what I refer to often is and be able to fail fast and say that worked or didn’t work and move on to the next thing," he said. "Failure is not the end. Failure is a learning process"