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BOCES - Randy Jackson, Cindy Walter, Ed LaVigneFrom left: TST BOCES Welding instructor Randy Jackson, Executive Director of Career Education Cindy Walter, and Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne

Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne says that kids who choose to enter trades instead of going to college should be equally valued, and notes that if attitudes toward entering the trades don't change there will be nobody left to build or fix things.  With that in mind LaVigne visited the TST BOCES welding classroom last week to make connections with welding instructor Randy Jackson.  His idea is to find ways to partner the BOCES program with Town Recreation Department offerings and finding other ways the Town can support BOCES Career and Tech programs.

"We may have kids in school that are struggling in fourth and fifth grade because they haven't found their voice yet," LaVigne says. "They find that they could look at a machine and know exactly what they're going to do with it, because they see that type of education is available. How do we introduce them to that? They say, 'I want to go there. I feel comfortable there. I'm good at this.' It's a different type of genius that we haven't really embraced yet."

Randall is a graduate of the welding class he now teaches.  He owned his own fabrication shop in Cortland for 35 years. He has taught adult education at BOCES since 1985, and continues to do so.  He is able to use his real-world connections to bring in other professionals to talk and work with his students.  Welding at BOCES is a two year program.  But welding is not all that students come away with.  With the help of professionals brought in from the community students are taught how to get and keep a job, and real-world applications.

"A huge part of our process though is staying very tightly connected in linked to the business industry that relates to the program," says Executive Director of Career Education Cindy Walter. "So each program instructor has an advisory board of  businesses that are out there to talk about changes, demands, newest technology, what we anticipate in the future so that we're constantly evaluating if we're relevant, and if what we're doing is preparing the students for that next generation of jobs.  We go beyond just teaching good interview skills. We set up mock interviews with the businesses in our community that sit down and each program take them through interviews and some of them end up with an actual job even though with the mock interview."

"We have all the union connections that are in all of our buildings yearly," Jackson adds. "Friday I'll have the fourth union come in and talk to kids. So they get exposed to unions, military fab shops, production shops, owner operators, pipeliners, underwater welders. They walk in, they can talk  and ask questions. What do you like, what don't you like? And they're real."

Jobs can vary from typical construction-type jobs to, possibly working in the Lansing Highway Department, fabricating special items, welding lighting scaffolds for rock concerts, to name a few.  Jackson says his future replacement for teaching welding at BOCES after he retires is probably in his class now.

While past stereotypes linger that BOCES is a place to dump the kids who don't fit in at their district schools, or have behavioral issues, that is not what today's BOCES is about.  the program takes a holistic approach to preparing students.

"It's the support behind the scenes and it really boils down to a work ethic," says Career and Technical Education Principal Kevin Casler. "Are you showing up? Are you taking directions? Are you collaborative? Can you interact? With the skill part now it starts to layer out to what are they being exposed to?"

Walter adds that those students who may have had behavioral issues soon lose them.

"When students come here, often behaviors disappear," she says. "They're just engaged. We've been standing here talking for 15 or 20 minutes and you see fully functioning kids that are all out here, independently engaged, fully engaged and happy and working, much due to  facilitation from Mr. Jackson and how he runs his classroom, but it's also because they like what they're doing."

Jackson says that while the basic skills have not changed much, there has been a big leap in technology over the course of his career.  Keeping current is an important part of the program.

"What's changed is the technology," Jackson says. "For example, these little blue welders you're seeing on carts are physically small but they have the same capacity as something that's the size of a pickup. You're getting smoother arcs, smoother electric flows, technology, and different processes. We're seeing a lot more CNC (Computer Numerical Control) stuff which works collaboratively with our skill set. So not only does the student need to know how to run a plasma cutter, they also need to know how to use a computer."

Walter says partnering with elements of the community like the Town of Lansing are a crucial part of keeping the program up to date so graduates can succeed in the real world.

"When we do our construction trades we want to do something that's very relevant to green energy and the green deal and all of that so that we're preparing for what's up and coming and make sure that we are relevant," Walter says. "The idea youth are out there that can professionally partner, maybe, with Lansing on space or something. That is crucial. We thrive on these collaborative partnerships in the community."

LaVigne said he has already talked to Parks & Recreation Supervisor Patrick Tyrrell about starting to think about ways to incorporate welding and other BOCES programs into the Rec Department offerings, perhaps as 'feeder programs' such as the ones the department already offers in soccer and other sports.  The idea is that young kids are introduced to a sport using the same philosophy of strategy, playing, and teamwork that they will eventually find in modified and varsity sports.  LaVigne says this may be a good approach for a partnership with BOCES, stressing that these careers are as important in a community as health professionals and attorneys.

"When you move into a new town, you look for your school, you look for your doctor, your dentist and your mechanic. They're all essential. Those are all different different skills sets that you need. And when you don't have one, you try to find one."

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