Monument Mountain rethinks vocational programs in changing work world

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Vocational education is changing as the work world evolves.

To keep pace, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District just hired someone to advance students' readiness for a tech-centric world.

"There are jobs that ... we haven't even heard of yet," said Sean Flynn, a guidance counselor at Monument Mountain Regional High School who will serve as a career, vocational and internship coordinator.

Flynn told the Berkshire Hills school committee last week that vocational programs of yore were typically manufacturing-based and must be updated.

"These programs were built and developed and grown, really, in the latter part of the 20th century," he said of traditional vocational education. "Our economy evolved ... we've gone from being a slow, gradual-change society to one that's changing quickly, exponentially."

Flynn said his job is to develop a program that continues to place students in positions in the community, while also matching their interests with academic work at school.

Rather than mainly respond to student interests, internships will be "path-driven," he said, with more goal-setting with students and more assignments and oversight.

"Sean will do research and visit other programs, and those across the state, to look at different models," said Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon.

Dillon said the school's current hands-on automotive, horticulture and early childhood programs will continue, and will be woven into the new effort. So will the current video production, computer and technology and woodworking classes, among others.

"We will take stock of what we're doing," Dillon added. "Are our programs the right programs, or should we add some?"

Typically, about 50 students head out into the community for internships, Flynn later told The Eagle.

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Two students are working now at the American Institute for Economic Research; two have internships at Fairview Hospital; one student is working at Windy Hill Farm and another with the golf course superintendent at Wyantenuck Country Club, all in Great Barrington.

Flynn said that whether students are college-bound or not, the world demands that they learn to roll with changes.

"Having students prepared — not just with a skill — but also just the habit of mind to feel like they can handle change," he said.

"This is not just about getting kids into MIT," Dillon said. "But setting kids up for success. At our best, we want to be a comprehensive high school."

Dillon said more work is needed to help less academically oriented students who want to go straight to work after they graduate. The hope, he added, is that the program will help train students for the needs of local industry, since a number of local companies have said they can't find qualified workers.

Flynn noted that even Monument itself, built in 1968, is not set up for the new workforce economy.

"When the school was built, there was a heavy manufacturing presence," he said of the region. "That was very routine and consistent."

But what's happening now is not.

"Everyone who is going to have a sustainable life will need to be lifelong learners," Flynn said.

"This is a response to the way the world has changed."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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