STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Table saws and band saws are in motion as the classroom is filled with leftover wood scraps. Staten Island high school students collaborate to build what appears to be a wooden storage container. A floor above, students grab screwdrivers and extension cords as they hook up electric boxes in their small cubicle mimicking what would be a customer’s home.
These students attend Ralph R. McKee Career and Technical Education (CTE) High School in St. George, in the carpentry and electrical programs, respectively.
“It gives the opportunity to do something unique,” said David Lopez, a junior at McKee.
CTE programs provide academic and technical instruction alongside work-based learning experiences to high school students in public schools across the country.
While several Staten Island high schools offer CTE programs, McKee is the only school in the borough dedicated to CTE for every student who enrolls.
Students at the high school are involved in an orientation during their freshman year, spending weeks at a time in their top three CTE choices, according to Principal Gregory Bowen. This allows students to truly learn which program they want to pursue for the next three years of their high school career.
Each CTE option, Bowen explained, is a three-year program that culminates with a certification in that industry. There are seven pathways available, including: architectural drafting; automotive; carpentry; digital marketing; electrical installation; graphic design, and software engineering.
“We have our shop classes, which is your automotive, your carpentry, and your electrical — those are more career-generated,” said Bowen. “The kids are going to go into the unions and go into shops, and those programs, some go to technical schools. Then you have more of your college-ready CTE programs like software engineering that would require post-secondary.”
Students take part in their CTE pathway daily, which coincides with McKee’s emphasis on project-based learning, he said. And the school prides itself on offering multiple opportunities for students — whether they choose to immediately enter the workforce, like joining a union or a private company, or continuing their education at a trade school or university.
McKee is the only Staten Island school with CTE programs and certifications in carpentry and electrical installation.
The Advance/SILive.com got a peek inside recently to see the two programs in action.
After exiting the stairwell on the second floor, visitors are immediately drawn to the sounds of the carpentry classroom. In an L-shape, the room has desks like a traditional classroom for instruction connected to what appears to be a carpentry workshop.
Traditional shop tools and worktables are spread throughout the classroom. During a recent junior class, students are seen working in groups to build a wooden storage container -- making sure to measure and cut to size the pieces they needed.
Carpentry teacher Dennis O’Connell floats around the room to supervise students and provide any help or support necessary.
Some students work on other projects, like doors, wooden American flags and raw-edge modern tree-trunk tables.
Even Bowen’s office desk, he explained, was made by students in the carpentry program.
The course is designed to provide hands-on installation of doors, windows and roofing, as well as interior finish operations like drywall, trim and molding. Students learn a production method for translating blueprints and framing a house from the foundation up.
“It’s hands-on, and I built friendships I wouldn’t have,” explained Lopez.
A floor above is the electrical installation room, filled with wooden frames that mimic the structure of a home. Students grab outlets, wires, extension cords, screws, screwdrivers and ladders to complete their current project.
In the CTE program, students learn electricity fundamentals like electrical safety, taking proper measurements, using power tools, electrical circuit components and construction, and more.
Electrical teacher Robert Cintron makes sure to provide students with the necessities — tools, screws and even bandages.
Senior Augie Lombardi said he plans to do private electrical work after graduation before continuing his certifications to the next level at Lincoln Tech.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said, about taking part in the three-year program. “They set you up with a lot of knowledge on basic electric and advanced electric.”
OPPORTUNITIES AFTER GRADUATION
For many students in the carpentry and electrical installation programs, the goal is to be accepted into a unionized apprenticeship.
McKee has partnerships with several New York labor unions that will hire students after graduation.
Students in the electrical program also have opportunities to join labor unions such as the MTA and Con Edison, as well as other opportunities in the private sector or the solar industry, said Cintron.
“We have an affiliation with Local 3, the MTA, ConEdison …” said Cintron. “These are careers they have direct entry to, they go right into apprenticeships. They are paid and trained to become future electricians.”
The school also provides internship opportunities for students throughout the school year and the summer.
WE WANT TO SHARE YOUR STORIES
Staten Island is full of unique and unusual stories — especially among the borough’s school-age community.
We want to profile special students, as well as programs that aid Staten Island youth.
Our most recent unique story focused on the student-run Curtis Closet, at Curtis High School in St. George, providing dresses, gowns, menswear, shoes, and more for free to the school community. Another story examined how grief centers, like Emma’s Place on Staten Island, are a necessity for many families.
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