NEWARK — Worcester County Public School’s hidden gem may also be its unequivocal crown jewel.
Tucked just off Route 113 in Newark, just a stone’s throw from the Worcester County’s Board of Education is Worcester Technical High School, an almost 140,000-square-foot fortress that provides vital training and education to students who lean towards STEM-centric, manufacturing and trade oriented professions.
Yet, while technical high schools have been around for decades, a quick stroll through Worcester Tech’s hallways and classrooms proves that this is not your daddy’s Vo-tech school.
Robots In The Pond
Fifteen-year-old Aiden Nichols makes robots, very cool robots. On a small dock, overlooking a small pond just behind Worcester Tech, Nichols is prepping a robot vehicle that he built by hand and gently feeds it into the murky water to begin an unprecedented study of the pond’s bottom. This type of experiment, also called bathymetry is currently used by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) on a much more grandiose scale to learn about the ocean floor.
“This is called an ROV, which is an underwater robot,” said Nichols. “It can give us visuals from the bottom and it will give us the ability to map out what the bottom of this pond looks like. It has lasers that shoots out to measure various things and we have 250 feet of cord, so we could go down that far in depth to study what we can’t see.”
Nichols has loved robotics from a young age, and he has spearheaded a drone business called High Level Imaging for weddings, races, concerts and other events.
Nichols’ robot will help students do real-time sea floor mapping, similar to what groundbreaking scientists at NOAA are doing right now.
This sort of hands-on training is an everyday occurrence at Worcester Tech and it’s the proverbial bread and butter of what instructors and students have come to adore about the growing institution.
Caroline Bloxom is the principal of Worcester Tech and she says when she took the job, she was astonished by what was offered to the region’s students.
“When I got here four years ago, my jaw just hit the floor,” said Bloxom “I thought, this isn’t vo-tech. I thought, this place is amazing, why isn’t every parent sending their child here?”
Bloxom says the longstanding perception about a technical school is that it is predominantly focused on traditional blue-collar jobs, but she says with the advances in modern technology, and the focus on STEM related professions here on the shore and nationwide, the school has drawn a much more diverse and growing number of students from the three feeder schools — Stephen Decatur High School, Snow Hill High School and Pocomoke High School.
“Even within these programs, computers hook up to everything, even in the professions that people would formerly call dirty trades,” said Bloxom. “More and more technology is being used in these trades and kids who have grown up with technology are realizing the merits in learning the professions because they are the real and future jobs in our region and throughout the world.”
Learning About Renewables
Edward Stough is the carpentry teacher at Worcester Tech, but while the smell of sawdust is everywhere in his expansive classroom, it is also filled with solar panels and wind turbines. Stough teaches renewable energy to students in addition to carpentry skills.
“We have five different simulators in here, both solar and wind,” said Stough. “We have five different solar systems and a roof mount that is built five feet off the ground outside that’s on a trailer so we can take it to show to other students. Everything is hands on, and for these kids, they retain the information much more because it’s not just theory, we apply what we learn each and every day.”
Bloxom and Stough agree that one of the most valuable skills that students learn at Worcester Tech is that things they work on in the classroom are imperfect, just like in the real world.
“The kids have to troubleshoot, meaning the teachers will put something together that doesn’t work and the kids have to figure out why it doesn’t and then fix the problem,” she said. “It’s that real critical thinking that often is lacking in what I call the sterile classroom where everything works.”
This experimentation and real world application extends to all of the growing number of programs offered at the school. Bloxom says the 21 programs offered at Worcester Tech, everything from culinary arts to welding, is expected to grow in the coming years as the need for skilled workers just out of high school continues to grow.
“More and more, we have kids going into the workforce right from our school,” she said, “and as the baby boomer population ages, and people continue to retire, we need kids like this to step into those vital jobs in our community to keep our way of life moving.”
Vo-tech schools may have been the place where the misfits and the blue-collar kids went in the 1980’s, but today, with an increased emphasis on STEM education and technology, Bloxom says the local leaders of tomorrow are likely to be cutting their proverbial teeth and honing their craft inside the strikingly impressive walls of Worcester Technical High.