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Bellmore-Merrick Central District's electrical program sparks students’ interest

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Fifteen seniors from the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District will trade their pencils for power tools this year, as the district launches its new electrical training program for students who want to pursue careers in the trade industry.

The 450-hour program is being offered through a partnership with the Electrical Training Center in Copiague. Citing career paths created by Calhoun High School’s On Tour program, Kennedy High’s culinary education course and districtwide broadcast journalism training, Superintendent John DeTommaso said the electrical training program would give students another “state-of-the-art” option to explore their interests.

“We’re starting to recognize kids who may not see their path as going to college,” DeTommaso said. “We’re as proud of those kids as ones who are getting into some of the finest schools in the country.”

The introduction of the program reflects a wider trend, too, according to Assistant Superintendent Michael Harrington. “With the need for skilled labor,” he said, “we felt that we could take advantage of the economy and give our kids with real interest and ability in the trades . . . hands-on experience to develop a passion for the work.”

Early skills-based learning — once a staple in high school shop classes — is disappearing from public schools, and the talent pool for skilled laborers is shrinking, according to a Money.com article published in January. A 2018 survey cited in the article found that only 9 percent of high school students pursue a career in the trades.

This “skills gap” is now motivating school districts to bring trade education back to their students, said Chris Cerqueira, the marketing and student services director of the Electrical Training Center, which also offers the program to students from Copiague High School.

“Schools that have trade shops are more successful than those that don’t,” Cerqueira said, “and kids need those motor skills.”

Students enrolled in the electrical training program will attend class in the afternoon in a new electrical lab housed at Brookside School, comprising 18 individual work stations and a standard classroom setup. The first part of class will focus on the lesson plan, with lectures on electrical theory or on-the-job experience from the instructor, and the second will deal with hands-on training.

Salvatore Ferrara, the Electrical Training Center director, said that since the program caters to a “very small class size,” instructors engage one-on-one with each student.

Students’ coursework will consist of three sections: All Trades, Level One and Level Two. “By the time they graduate, they’re doing things they never thought they could do,” Ferrara said, “and they’ll be employable.”

Students in the program will receive certificates of completion upon graduation. Joe Santagata, a Calhoun senior, said the training he receives in the program would help him get a job after high school. “I can’t really work in an office — I like to be hands-on — and this will give me a lot of skills to start a career,” Santagata said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Not only students are excited; parents are, too. Harrington said that when administrators informed families about the program earlier this year, they were “ecstatic.”

“There were so many parents who reached out, saying, ‘Thank you for being a district who recognizes that the need exists, and providing students with learning experiences that could lead to a successful future,’” he said. “Whether they go on to an apprenticeship, or go to college to become an electrical engineer, this is a skill set that benefits them, no matter what.”

Those interested in the program can contact Harrington at (516) 992-1040.