The state Department of Education’s executive deputy secretary, David Volkman, toured Trinity Area High School’s career-preparedness programs Thursday.
“What I saw here today is a way to keep students engaged and in school,” Volkman said. “Trinity is certainly on the right track. I think they’re a model.”
High school Principal Tom Samosky led Volkman and other officials, including education consultant Jean Dyszel and state Rep. Tim O’Neal, through the school’s college and career-readiness programs, as part of the state’s Schools That Teach tour.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s new Statewide Workforce, Education and Accountability Program, or SWEAP, initiative will lower the compulsory age for school attendance from 8 to 6 years old and raise the dropout age from 17 to 18.
“One of the goals we have right now is dropout prevention,” Volkman said. “You have to be able to re-engage these kids.”
Part of the tour included advanced-placement courses, the school’s greenhouse and freight farm, newly installed solar energy flowers and a windmill, woodworking and metals workshops, a “fab lab” with new technology stations and robotics projects, a small-engine mechanics class, the school’s museum and a flower shop run by the school.
Robin Durila, a vocational agriculture teacher who helps run the flower shop, said that while learning about different flowers and plants, the students make up arrangements that they deliver to elderly people in the community. She said they also sell some of the arrangements, at a lower cost, for local weddings, Mother’s Day, and prom events.
John Husk, a technology education and agricultural mechanics teacher, showcased different machines and some of the metal and woodworking projects his students have completed.
“We encourage kids to bring in their own projects,” he said. “That’s how they get really motivated. We tell them to think of something you have at home that you want fixed.”
Most of the vocational and career-readiness programs offered at Trinity are funded through grants and made possible through community partnerships, Samosky explained. Superintendent Michael Lucas said their variety of vocational programs and elective courses have provided students with post-graduation options, and have motivated them to stay in school.
“We had to get our parents to believe that we are the best school in town, and the only way to do that is the kids have to love going to school,” Lucas said. “Going to college is not the goal for a lot of our kids, but boy, there are a lot of options for them. Our kids are getting certifications, they’re getting internships and jobs. It has become more important to us than test scores.”
Volkman said he was “impressed” with Trinity’s career readiness and “toolbox approach” to keeping students engaged through graduation and getting them “employable skills.”
“I will go back and talk to the secretary about the good things that are happening here,” Volkman said. “To see the students so engaged – that’s what’s so critically important.”