Education evolution: Bath tech center adjusts focus to meet changing career needs

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BATH — The Bath Regional Career and Technical Center’s evolving programming shows that times are changing.

While the school maintains some traditional vocational programs, such as welding, automotive, electrical and carpentry, it has shifted increasingly toward technical education.

“If you’d been in an automotive classroom 20 years ago and then went into the automotive area today, you wouldn’t know where to go, or what to do,” BRCTC Director Joel Austin said on Monday.

Computers are the big difference.

“When a kid … gets a car in that is misfiring, he’s going to grab an analyzer, which is basically a small laptop computer, and start plugging things in and see what comes up on the screen. And that’s going to tell him what’s not working.”

The student will then use the Internet to first determine how to repair or replace the necessary part, and then to order it.

There’s still a mix of the old and new, though.

“It’s a hybrid … of the two: the lower-tech voc program, and the higher-tech program,” Austin said. “That is really a necessary change for us.”

The 800 High St. center is hosting an open house from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 8, with tours, program demonstrations, raffles and food.

Recognizing that many of its students want to go on to post-secondary education, the center has become more focused on helping them prepare for college and the working world. It has watched employment trends and shifted its programs accordingly, cutting business programs and adding commercial arts, composites and welding, Austin said.

The center also aligns its classes with an array of post-secondary programs, and its students are allowed to earn college credits while they complete high school requirements. They can also earn science and math high school credits as part of their learning at BRCTC, although they primarily earn elective credits.

Applied academics, cooperative education, culinary arts, early childhood and health occupations, and engineering graphics are among the center’s other offerings.

The center’s approximately 250 students come from Morse High School – to which the center is attached – as well as from Lincoln Academy in Newcastle and Wiscasset and Boothbay Region high schools. BRCTC is independent of Morse, with an advisory committee composed of a superintendent, principal and school board members from each school.

Students spend half a day at the school, and the other half back at their high school, where they complete their academic programs. Programs generally run during junior and senior years.

“I think we compliment, and increasingly mesh with, the academic side,” said Austin, who was previously principal of Boothbay Region High School. He noted that students at the center still must meet their academic requirements to graduate.

“They’re not kids who are successful sitting in a classroom for 80 minutes at a time, listening to a teacher talk to them,” Austin said. “And they’re not kids who are going to then take that textbook and go sit and read a chapter and answer some questions … that’s just not who they are. They may be pretty bright; they may be pretty motivated, really, and frustrated that they aren’t successful in that model, but don’t know what to do about it.

“They’re … the traditional hands on learner, but it’s much more than it,” he continued. “It’s really about experiential learning, about constructivist learning. It’s about being able to do something that’s important, that makes sense. … We offer that alternative.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sidebar Elements

Culinary arts students at the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center hone their chicken preparation skills on Monday.

Joel Austin has been director of the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center since 2009.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.