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Career Center redefines its priorities for the future

MIDDLEBURY — The Patricia Hannaford Career Center is generally doing a good job, but should consider adding new courses — such as veterinary science, dental hygiene and robotics — to reflect some of the evolving professional interests of its students.

Those were among the takeaways of a lengthy “visioning” process that saw career center students, educators, business partners and community members take a thorough look at the school’s offerings and solicit feedback on how to better tailor vocational-technical education for Addison County teens and adults.

That visioning process began during the fall of 2019, when a team of Patricia Hannaford Career Center (PHCC) stakeholders convened to draft new vision and mission statements for the Middlebury school, which serves students in the Addison Central, Addison Northwest and Mount Abraham Unified school districts. The broader intent was to make sure the center continues to reflect the career paths of present and future students.

A PHCC Community Engagement Committee last year drafted and circulated an online survey to help gauge the community’s priorities for local vocational-technical education. Hannaford Superintendent Dana Peterson was pleased to report the survey drew 371 respondents, including 100 students. Alumni, staff and local families also weighed in.

“People are very satisfied with the career center and they want us to keep all of the current programs — but also innovate in different ways,” Peterson said of the survey findings, which among other things revealed:

  • 66% of respondents said they believe the PHCC us “doing a great job,” while 19.7% said the school is simply “doing OK.”
  • In the comments section, current students spoke highly of their experience at the career center, praising their teachers and various programs — particularly the Art and Design offerings.
  • But some respondents expressed concerns about PHCC scheduling issues and a perceived need to add more courses to match up with student interests. Among the desired program additions: plumbing, locksmithing, electrical work, fashion design/costuming, cosmetology, video design, professional dance, sculpture, woodworking, criminology, veterinary science, dental hygiene and robotics.

The PHCC board hired consultant Sue McCormack to guide the school’s “Vision and Mission Committee” through the survey findings and a series of public meetings.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck in February of 2020.

“It created a hiatus,” Peterson recalled. “There was a proposal that we try to continue it virtually, but the logistics, the amount of time needed and the emphasis we had to place on remote learning for students didn’t allow for enough head space to be able to follow that transition. Board members were preoccupied with other needs.”

After an eight-month hiatus, the visioning process resumed in early 2021, when the coronavirus vaccine started to become available. Officials gathered data from a series of five community forums — three virtual and two in-person sessions. They provided input from students, community members, faculty and staff, and business partners.

Peterson said all of the gathered information and feedback yielded:

  • Confidence that stakeholders are satisfied with the career center, but as Peterson said, they also want to see, “Increasing arts opportunities and innovation and technology opportunities.”
  • Validation for the PHCC’s construction technology program, which was just beginning at the time of the visioning process. It is now fully implemented.
  • A $20,000 grant from the Vermont Department of Labor grant that will increase the ability of the career center to give its students internships and cooperative education placements in local businesses. This provides them with hands-on work experience and training.
  • Collaboration between the career center and Collins Aerospace of Vergennes on a training program for students interested in careers in high-tech manufacturing. Peterson said the two entities have applied for a $20,000 workforce-development grant through the federal government to help bankroll the program. The feds are not only receptive to the PHCC/Collins grant proposal, but they also appear willing to allocate significantly more than the $20,000, according to Peterson.

Plans call for the program to initially be piloted for adult PHCC students, beginning next February. It’s expected to help career center students seamlessly transition to available positions at Collins.

  • Receipt of a $70,000 innovation grant through the Vermont Agency of Education to embed more voc-tech programs at Vergennes and Mount Abraham union high schools. This is an effort to create more of a level playing field for Vergennes- and Bristol-area students who — because of geography — don’t have the same ready access to PHCC programs that Middlebury-area students currently enjoy. The PHCC’s main campus and North Campus are both located in Middlebury.
  • A greater focus of the center’s auto and diesel programs on electric vehicles.
  • A potential partnership with the Vermont Dental Association on a dental assistant training program.
  • A new vision statement calling for a PHCC that “empowers students to be inquisitive, caring and open-minded citizens of local, national and global communities, who engage as lifelong learners and understand and accept different viewpoints and perspectives.”
  • A new mission statement calling for students to be provided with “rigorous, hands-on and classroom instruction, robust community partnerships, and project-based learning opportunities that empower and inspire them to build strong work habits, relevant, innovative technical skills, and a sense of personal responsibility as local, national and global citizens while ensuring equity for all participants.”

For more information about Patricia Hannaford Career Center programming and priorities, go to hannafordcareercenter.org.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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