Fitch High School to expand career-related courses
Groton ― Nevaeha Salas, 17, a senior at Fitch High School, knew she wanted to be a nurse after learning about the profession from her mother, a nurse, and volunteering with her.
Salas was glad to learn that Fitch offers a two-year program in which students can take a test to become a certified nursing assistant by the time they graduate. The students are shadowing CNAs at a nursing home in Mystic, and Salas also is working there.
“It’s just given me a lot of opportunities for the healthcare field, and it’s made me a lot more comfortable when it comes to being, and working in, the nursing home,” Salas said.
Fitch High School is helping students like Salas prepare for careers and explore their options and next year will roll out more career-related programs and courses to expand choices for students.
“We have students coming to us from a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of different interests,” said Fitch High School Principal Edward "Ted" Keleher. “They want to do military, they want to get into careers, they want to go into college, and we’re trying to find ways to really meet those interests.”
The school next year will introduce a new program, called Educators Rising, in which students interested in teaching will be able to observe teachers in classes in the school district.
An emergency medical technician class will enable students to obtain certification and help meet the need for EMTs in the community. There also will be a Naval Sciences program, called the Navy National Defense Cadet Corps program, a precursor to the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) program.
The district also will begin the International Baccalaureate Career Related Programme, to provide students with real-world experience, focused initially on nursing, engineering, and business, and hopefully expanding later to more fields, said Anne Keefe-Forbotnick, coordinator of the new program.
Starting next school year, students in the spring of their freshman year will choose one of four career pathways: Business, Arts and Communication; Manufacturing, Architecture and Engineering; Human Services; and Health Sciences.
The school will help students develop a plan for their four years in school and guide the electives ― in addition to the core courses they need for graduation ― and potentially their extracurricular activities, to support what they want to do after high school, said Chelsey Courtright, pathways program coordinator.
The school is revamping its existing career pathways program to make it more comprehensive and provide students with more options and guidance.
Courtright and Keleher said there is flexibility for students to explore courses, and they can always change their pathway later.
Keleher said he encourages students who are not sure about their career paths, to think about what their interests are. He said the school wants to support students who already know their career path and those exploring different options.
The school also is working to establish student internship opportunities with local businesses, Courtright said.
To support the programs, Groton received a federal grant requested by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, for the career pathways, and the district also received a Department of Defense Education Activity grant for career pathways, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and Health Sciences, said Superintendent Susan Austin.
Giving students options, improving access
Austin said that colleges are expensive, and the 21st-century vision was for students to be college- and career-ready, but the focus was on college. Today, she said, the focus is on careers, and there are many different ways to get there, from a traditional college pathway to opportunities for apprenticeships with Electric Boat.
Austin said the school district wants to prepare students to be ready for jobs, including working on the Columbia-class submarines that will be built and stationed in Groton, and pursuing other careers in the diverse community, from the restaurant industry to museums.
“We want our students to be able to stay in this area, should they choose, and have lots of opportunities, so we have to get them ready in school,” Austin said.
Assistant Superintendent Philip Piazza said that in returning to school after the COVID-19 pandemic, the school district listened to what students wanted, and now the school district is working to build a curriculum that’s going to prepare them for the college or workforce.
Kelley Donovan, International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Coordinator, said the school wants students to feel like there are other options that support their goals, if their plans do not include college.
For students applying to college, the career program coursework can be a way for students to convince the schools of their commitment to a field, she added. Certification to be a nursing assistant or emergency medical technician can also make students stand out on applications to selective programs.
Students already exploring careers
At Fitch on Friday, students said they are already taking classes that are helping them prepare for their careers.
Koray Kavgaci, 18, a senior, Joseph Kraehnke, 15, a sophomore, and Alex Hankey, 15, a sophomore, showed how they put together the morning announcements in their video production class, where they work on computers and project slides onto a teleprompter.
Kraehnke said he is interested in learning about more about the engineering offerings for next year.
In another classroom, Rhiana Boutot, 18, a senior, and her classmates were making brochures to describe manufacturing processes in their honors Computer Integrated Manufacturing class.
“I want to become a mechanical engineer so these classes help me to learn specifically about the engineering process,” she said.
Her classmate, Gianni Drab, 16, a junior, said his dream is to become an aerospace engineer and work for NASA. He said he’s learning so many skills, from how to program to how to work as a team.
In an afternoon accounting class, students were preparing a mock income statement and a retained earning statement, among other tasks.
Andres Jara, 17, a senior, said he took an IB business management class last year, which made him realize he wanted to pursue a business career. This year, he is taking accounting and marketing, and next year he plans to study finance at Syracuse University.
Alannis Melendez, 17, junior, said she is from a military family and it’s her first year at Fitch. She wants to work in business when she graduates, but at her old school there was only one business class that she wasn’t able to take because it filled up so quickly. At Fitch, she said there are many different classes and more resources.
Aisha Hashimi, 17, a senior in the IB Diploma Programme, said she plans to become a dermatologist and Donovan helped her find her career path. Hashimi said courses, such as IB chemistry and IB sports health exercise, will help prepare her for the medical field.
Ryan Greene, 17, a senior in the IB Diploma Programme, who wants to be a software engineer, said he wrote a paper on computer processors for his math class.
“You’re learning a real-world application,” Greene said.
Keleher said the school is trying to increase access next year to courses for students.
Terance Henkle, a science teacher who will be the lead instructor of the Navy National Defense Cadet Corps program, said the program will give students an opportunity to use leadership skills and understand what potentially going into any of the service academies would be like. If they sign up for the military, they would get a higher rank based on the courses they took.
English teacher Laurel Holubecki said the new Educators Rising program, will give students an opportunity to learn about being an educator so that they can potentially teach in the community later. They also can earn University of Connecticut credit.
“We want to give them as much experience for the real world, as soon as we can, the earlier the better, because we want them to explore different things,” said Keefe-Forbotnick. “We want to hone in on what their passion is because it’s definitely going to help them whether they choose college, choose workforce, or choose the military after ― or any combination. This is a great foundation for our students to walk away with all these opportunities.”