MERIDEN — Students wore disposable caps, hair nets and aprons as they walked past a row of stainless steel tables and kettles, and queued up to wash their hands in the large commercial kitchen at Wilcox Technical High School. They were getting ready for their first lesson in culinary arts.
Down the hall, instructor Zeke Lehrer introduced another small group of students to a computer numerical control milling machine, which is used in precision manufacturing.
Neither group are full-time Wilcox students. They are part of a new Career Academy program, which officials from Meriden Public Schools and the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System described as the first of its kind in the state. It’s open to students from nearby Platt High School and Maloney High School, less than four miles east.
In all, 23 Platt and Maloney students have enrolled in the Career Academy program, which was officially launched Tuesday afternoon. Local and state officials, joined by the program’s new students, cut a ceremonial ribbon before the students entered Wilcox for their first classes in the academy.
Students enrolled in the two-year program will graduate high school with their standard diploma, along with two-and-a-half career and technical education credits in culinary arts, manufacturing or carpentry, according to officials.
Those credits, officials said, will equip students with the skills and credentials needed to help them enter the workforce in high-demand industries.
Meriden Public Schools Superintendent Mark Benigni said he could not be more pleased that the program has come to fruition. He and Connecticut Technical Education and Career System Superintendent Jeffrey Wihbey credited Susan Moore, MPS Supervisor of Blended Learning and Pat Ciarleglio, an Apprenticeship Education Consultant in the state technical system.
“Today really is about our students. This gives them a greater opportunity,” Benigni said. “Three terrific trades, opportunities to learn real life job skills that we know are so important for our students, but also for our community and our business partners.”
Wihbey called the program’s launch “a win-win for all.” He said “This is an opportunity for kids to be getting skills, credentials and credits so that they can become highly employable and upon graduation they will be career and college ready here in Connecticut for our workforce,” he said. Wihbey said similar partnerships with public school districts in Middletown and Groton are planned.
“We’re very excited,” Wihbey said. “We wanted to pick a great place to do it first. Mark’s team here in Meriden was the right place to try to make this happen.”
Darren Gibbons, a sophomore at Platt, is among the program’s first group of manufacturing students. “I’m pretty excited. I have high hopes going into this,” Gibbons said following the ribbon cutting. He added he hopes the program will help lead him to a lifelong career, hopefully in the aerospace industry. “We’ll see where it takes me,” he said.