Hands On Minds On

It’s an exciting time to be a part of Career and Technical Education, not only in New York State, but nationwide,” said Michele Friedman, director of CV-TEC, from her office
in the school’s main campus in Plattsburgh. In a job market where nearly every career path has some sort of technological component, CV-TEC plays a lead role in preparing students from across the region for jobs they’re excited about. As Friedman explained it, the targeted nature of career and technical education (CTE) uses a model that makes the ‘Why?’ a focus of the curriculum. “CTE goes beyond the traditional classroom model to create multiple pathways for students to prepare for skilled jobs as well as two- and four-year colleges.”

Friedman became director of CV-TEC in 2013. To her, the role is her dream job because of the opportunity to create and continue programs that help erase past perceptions of career and technical education as somehow inferior to the traditional pathway to college. That opportunity is the fulfillment of a goal she set for herself soon after she graduated from college.

Coming Full Circle

Friedman grew up in Mechanicville, NY, and came to the North Country as a first-year college student at SUNY Plattsburgh, where she completed a B.A. in Elementary Education and extended her certification to teach middle school science (grades 7–9). Always fascinated by the sciences, especially physical sciences, she went on to earn her certification in high school science (grades 9–12), specializing in Earth Science.

After graduation, Friedman was committed to remaining in the North Country, but she found the job market saturated. She was substitute teaching and feeling discouraged about her long-term job prospects when she landed a position as a teaching assistant at CV-TEC’s high school GED preparation program, a job she said kept her in the North Country, and ultimately led to an exhilarating career.

“I spent the days teaching GED preparation courses and in the opposite sessions, my students studied in the CTE program,” said Friedman. “Working with the students in alternative education was transformational. I was only 22—not much older than they were—and I watched these young people who had really struggled and become disillusioned with the traditional education system find renewed value in learning and gain tremendous confidence. Realizing there needed to be a stronger voice in career and technical education, I decided then and there I wanted to be a part of it.”

Friedman resumed her studies, earned her Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction and NYSED Certifications in School Building and District Administration, and in 2006 became the K–12 vice princi- pal and director of special education in the Westport Central School District. She continued her administrative career in Westport, later becoming acting superintendent to assist the district with a new administrative model employing a full-time principal and half- time superintendent, roles she held for eight years. “They gave me a balance of perspectives,” explained Friedman. “It’s been quite a journey of love and hard work.” That journey led her back to CV-TEC.

Rigor and Targeted Exploration

Friedman pointed out that all of CV-TEC’s programs are technically and academically rigorous. “Our academic courses meet the NYSED requirements for a Regent’s diploma, and we are the only school in New York State that has all of its career and technical education programs nationally accredited by the Council on Occupational Education and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education,” she said. “Today, every career has some technological connection. Our curriculum prepares students for both college and a wide range of high-wage, high-skill, high-demand careers; the pathway has multiple options.” A recent video by Edge Factor may say it best; it assures viewers that a CTE education will leave students “skilled in your trade, applied in your science, and modern in your technology.” It ends with the hashtag #WhySettle.

CV-TEC has an enrollment of nearly 700 students from 17 school districts across the North Country on its three campuses (two in Plattsburgh and one in Mineville). Friedman said that in addition to helping students meet academic goals, the curriculum guides them in identifying, planning, and organizing resources; developing inter- personal skills; acquiring and using information; understanding complex systems; and working with a variety of tools and technology.

Mandatory work-based learning opportunities help CV-TEC maintain close ties with businesses and industries in the community. For example, the Security and Law Enforcement program is partnered with U.S. Homeland Security; two campuses have working sugar houses; Automotive Technology and Automotive Collision Repair Technology students staff a working service center; and the Animal Science/Veterinary Tech Assistant program houses a menagerie of well-cared-for animals. Students in the Allied Health program, which is partnered with UVM-CVPH, graduate with a CNA license and are prepared to go directly into LPN or RN training. The Pressure House, a training project through NYSERDA for the construction trades, and electrical design, installation, and alternative energy students (the subject of an April 2016 Strictly Business article), is nearing completion. To have an accurate perspective on what skills are needed in the workplace, Friedman meets with CV-TEC Business and Industry Advisory Council twice a year, as do CV-TEC CTE program teachers with their respective program advisory councils.

Although CV-TEC’s enrollment consists primarily of 11th and 12th graders, with seating preference going to those students, CV-TEC’s programs are also open to adults who are acclimating to a second career or transitioning from the military. Unlike high school students whose CTE program costs are covered by their home school districts, adults must pay their own tuition and fees, however they are eligible to apply for Federal Financial Student Aid and student loans using the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Roughly 50 current students at CV-TEC are adults, and Friedman is proud that CV-TEC’s programs offer an opportunity for faculty and staff to work with students of all ages and backgrounds.

“This is a considerable resource for the community. We can train a workforce for the North Country. Our kids are from small towns, they’re rooted here and they want to stay here. They can choose a CTE program where they can acquire mastery in their field of study and a solid, college-ready academic base. And when they graduate, they can choose a path directly to work, or to continue on to Clinton Community College, North Country Community College, SUNY Plattsburgh, or Clarkson University, to name a few. Adults who want to retrain for a new job or career can also succeed here,” said Friedman.

Serendipitously, the office Friedman occupies now is the very same office where she first interviewed for the teaching assistant position in CV-TEC’s GED preparation program after college. After literally coming full circle in her own career, Friedman was emphatic about CV-TEC and its CTE programs: “I’m excited about developing programs with our business partners that will keep our talent here. Come to our facility and see it with your own eyes. Students can ‘test-drive’ what they think a field is like, and get a jump start in the job market. Right now, I cannot think of being in any other place.”