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How to fill the county’s job openings? The state is supporting a career-prep course Lenox Memorial Middle and High School

Students exit Lenox Middle and High School (copy)

Lenox Middle and High School students will have the opportunity to participate in the immersive, pre-vocational experience Innovative Pathways.

LENOX — With “hiring now” and “help wanted” signs continuing to sprout at businesses in commercial districts countywide, another school is fast-tracking a program to help students prepare for careers with especially hot prospects, including hospitality, health care and business/finance. The state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently awarded a five-year Innovation Pathways designation to Lenox Memorial Middle and High School for an immersive, pre-vocational experience stretching from sixth grade through senior year.

Superintendent Marc J. Gosselin, Jr., made an announcement at a School Committee meeting earlier this month.

“We are confident that your new Innovation Pathways in Business and Finance and Healthcare/Social Assistance at Lenox will offer students a transformative experience, enabling them to develop essential skills, gain awareness of future career opportunities, and make informed choices about post-secondary education in promising fields,” wrote Jeffrey C. Riley, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, in an award letter to Gosselin.

‘When I was first approached about my support for the innovation pathways, my answer was, ‘Where do I sign?’ ” Gosselin told The Eagle. “I am a champion of defining success in multiple ways. I believe that this program is a creative, nontraditional opportunity to expand that definition through broader and more diverse courses for students to explore.”

The superintendent noted that the Pathways designation allows Lenox to partner with regional businesses in innovative sectors across the Berkshires.

“Pathways complement other opportunities such as dual enrollment at BCC to position students to be college- and career-ready after they leave Lenox,” he said, “whether they choose to join the workforce or continue their education.”

In addition to enabling students to develop skills, experience, and knowledge in different sectors such as health care or business,” Gosselin said, “these opportunities also expose students to ‘life skills’ such as responsibility, punctuality, and effective communication that will serve them well no matter where their future pursuits take them.”

The program will be rolled out in September, said Tara Romeo, a guidance counselor at the school. The first county high school to win an Innovation Pathways grant was Monument Mountain Regional in Great Barrington in 2019. The program is open to all school districts seeking to participate in career preparation plans.

Lenox students will be able to active pursue career preparation in health care, the hospitality field and in business and finance. The school worked closely with the MassHire Berkshire Workforce Board to identify the employment sectors with the most urgent, immediate needs for trained workers, Romeo said.

So far, it has formal arrangements with Berkshire Health Care Systems, including Kimball Farms Life Care, the Miraval Berkshires resort in Lenox and Adams Community Bank to provide opportunities for students.

In health care, for example, staffing for CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) and medical assistant positions is in demand at Berkshire Health Care Systems. Banks are in need of tellers and other staff, while the area’s vibrant hospitality field has a wide variety of open positions.

As Gosselin noted, “the program will allow expanded courses for students in high-demand industries coupled with workplace experience and internships at regional employers. This experience builds relationships that may lead to jobs right out of high school. Our hope is a mutual benefit for our students and those innovative Berkshire employers who need talented employees to support the regional economy.”

Here’s how the program works:

• All students in grades 6 through 9 will attend “Strategies for Success” classes focusing on life and study skills as well as computer applications taught by faculty member Heather McNeice, formerly of Taconic High in Pittsfield. “Those are skills they’ll use no matter what they do — school, college and workplace training,” Romeo said, “such as how to send an appropriate e-mail.”

• When they reach their freshmen year, students will decide whether they want to volunteer to join either pathway — health care, hospitality or business — as an elective class.

• In addition to at least four courses, juniors and seniors will perform a 100-hour internship for workplace experience, as well as employment readiness training, and social and emotional learning. “It’s all about practical life skills,” Romeo said.

Last September, prior to its official designation this spring as one of 43 schools statewide participating in the Innovative Pathways program, the school was awarded a $29,100 planning grant from the state’s education department.

“If students choose not to enter the workforce after high school, the program will prepare them to be successful learners at the collegiate level,” Gosselin said. “As an educator, I strive to ensure that students have the opportunity to pursue a wide array of interests and passions and leave Lenox thoroughly prepared for their lives post-graduation.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or on Twitter @BE_cfanto.

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