Tailgate: Charlie Myers, Vo-tech Teacher
This educator at the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center in Rhode Island prepares students to pursue the trades and more.
How did you get started in vo-tech?
I remember being bombarded in high school about how you can only be successful if you go to college. Naturally, I wanted to be successful. I was enrolled in a machine shop class at a vo-tech school, with plans on getting an engineering degree. My goal was to design machines that made machines. I took college-prep classes and graduated, but college tuition was totally out of the question. Instead, I started an entry-level job in a cabinetmaking shop.
Soon after, I took on a few framing side jobs and found a passion. I created a plan to start my own framing company. I loved that there was so much to learn. I read all kinds of books about carpentry and dozens of industry trade magazines, but I realized that what I really looked forward to was helping new hires learn the ropes. I’d spend my lunch break showing them how to lay out walls or square a foundation, or after work, I would show them how to calculate and lay out rafters. I looked into the requirements for becoming a construction teacher, and I attended college at night. After earning my degree, I began teaching in an urban school system. I’m able to relate to students because I know about the financial circumstances a lot of them are facing.
I understand that your students have done well in the Skills USA competitions.
Our students have won many state medals, and I’m extremely proud of every single one who makes it to the national competition. They put it all on the line and work for months in preparation. When we do have a state winner, I attend the national competition with them in June. Words cannot do it justice. The main floor is the size of nine football fields. It’s a massive celebration of the hard work the students put in to get there. I always return loaded with new ideas for my curriculum.
Is there still a social stigma to vo-tech education?
That stigma is all too familiar from the era when I attended a vo-tech school. The technical courses were challenging, but the academic courses were not, which severely limited choices upon graduation.
Things couldn’t be more different now. Graduates from our school have gone on to the most prestigious colleges in the country—including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Georgetown—as well as local schools such as the University of Rhode Island, New England Tech, and Johnson & Wales University. The statistics for the vo-tech model are staggering. According to Education Weekly, “Nationally, 90% of the students enrolled in a vo-tech program graduate on time.” Vo-tech students who continue on to four-year colleges are almost twice as likely to graduate on time as liberal-arts students, which is a tremendously positive change. Prospective students often have to convince their parents to let them come here, but our open-house events allow us to showcase options that are available to their children because they attend this school. We really are a school of choice, where students discover what excites and interests them. Many students have had internships, participated in job shadowing, and ultimately obtained full-time work because of doors we’ve helped open. We have graduates who have pursued trade work in every facet of construction. Conversely, some have realized that the hands-on element was not for them and pursued related careers such as teaching, architecture, or a variety of engineering disciplines. For each of these students, their background in construction helped them to identify their career path and succeed in pursuing it.
What kind of experiences do your students get?
It’s my goal to get them out of the classroom and onto a job site as often as possible. Qualified students earn NCCER apprenticeship hours, which can transfer to colleges for credits; OSHA 10 cards and S/P2 safety certifications; and up to four ICC certifications. In addition, we are working statewide to be the first program in the country to offer students a lead abatement class, where they can earn their Lead-Safe Remodeler/Renovator license. The students also learn about green building; in fact, we became the first program in Rhode Island to build an Energy Star home. We built a home to Earth Advantage Standards, and we are planning a new partnership with the city of Woonsocket to plan, develop, and construct the first student-built, net-zero home in our state.
I bring building science and principles into our curriculum and disprove the myth that building an energy-efficient home means upping construction costs. It’s an educated means of understanding how to build a better home that will last longer and be healthier for the customer.
For the complete interview, visit FineHomebuilding.com/extras.