Another facet to education
ISLIP TOWN—The Eastern Suffolk BOCES Milliken Technical Center on Locust Avenue in Oakdale offers a wide range of career prep services for students (11th and 12th grade) and adults seeking to advance their skills beyond the traditional academic setting. On Tuesday, a tour of the sprawling building offered a firsthand glimpse of the various in-depth programs designed to prepare individuals for long-term career success.
The facility services 51 school districts throughout Suffolk County, including portions of Eastern Long Island. Participants engage in half-day programs funded by each district, splitting their studies between BOCES and their respective high schools. About 700 students are enrolled for the current semester. Meanwhile, the center also has two other sister facilities in Brookhaven and Riverhead.
Students looking to branch out of their normal high school workload can learn skills while utilizing cutting edge, state-of-the-art equipment and practices.
“Every time the state reacts to something, BOCES is one of the first organizations to come up with something to service that need,” said public relations specialist/supervisor Fran Knoedl. “We play a critical role in offering those services.”
“I find that kids who come here may not be the best students in their high schools, but they come here and find something they really like and it really helps them move forward and do anything they want,” noted Principal Thomas McGrath. “Many of these things you can’t just learn in a textbook or a traditional classroom setting. If you look at any one of our programs, we really try to stick to the industry standard. It’s a lot of academic instruction, but also a lot of hands-on technical work.”
McGrath said that each individual class works together to make the building run together as a whole.
“I like to view our program like we’re our own little city,” said McGrath. “We do everything for ourselves, whether it’s taking care of kids, doing haircuts, cooking food or taking care of cars. If the rest of the world shut down, we’d be able to house everything and deal with it.”
Public Relations Specialist Heather Battaglia noted that their stats are very high for students that obtain professional certifications and continue onto higher education and pursue further opportunities in their respective fields.
“Statistics show that when you engage high school students in something career-related and give them hands-on experience, they’re really driven to want to continue with it in the years to come,” said Battaglia, who noted that they also offer a summer program for middle school students. “All of our classes are really geared towards advancing to higher education or getting out and starting an entry level job,” she added.
In the early childhood education wing, students are able to work with preschool children from the surrounding community for two and a half hours a day. Ward Melville High School junior Megan Pollett, who plans on becoming a kindergarten teacher, noted the benefits of receiving that kind of hands-on experience.
“I think it’s really awesome,” said Pollett. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, so working here with all the kids is really fun.”
The cosmetology program includes of the completion of a 1000-hour licensing course to become a licensed cosmetologist. On Tuesday, the class was preparing for a community outreach event named “An Afternoon of Beauty,” in which the students offer services like haircuts, thermal styling, blow-drying, manicures, and paraffin treatments to members of the community in exchange for a $5 donation and a non-perishable food item for St. John’s Nepomucene R.C. Church Pantry in Bohemia.
“It’s a really nice thing that we do,” said cosmetology instructor Deborah Esposito. “They all work together to make it happen and do a really nice job.”
Cooking classes consist of hands-on work in a fully equipped kitchen. During the tour, first-year students were learning how to cook their own delicious funnel cakes.
“Like our other courses, the kids use all industry-based equipment, whether it’s a pizza oven, convection oven, or stove,” said McGrath, who noted that refrigeration units were actually built and installed by HVAC students. “A big part of the job is also safety and cleanliness, and they learn how to break everything down as well. So they’re basically learning how to run a business.”
The audio production room featured private, soundproof studios for each student to work in while creating and mixing various styles of music on the latest programs and software.
“They can record right in here without any distractions,” said instructor Matt Cooper. “They end up getting pretty focused to the point where they forget that they’ve been working on something for an hour already.”
Meanwhile, the popular law enforcement program offers a wide range of services, including an intensive youth academy for select students in partnership with the Suffolk County Police Department. Designated rooms offer instructional experience in CSI working, arresting protocol, mock trial/courtroom debates and 911 response services.
“This facility was [also] chosen as the central location for the Suffolk County Marathon due to its central location,” said McGrath. “It was another great opportunity to get students involved.”
Other stops on the tour included ongoing classes in clinical medical assisting, nurse assisting, welding, automotive technology, auto body repair (whose work included revamping a military Humvee for the SCPD), and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).
“We have business and industry partners that align with each of our programs,” noted McGrath. “Our teachers are professionals, so they can help students take on internships and apprenticeships that translate directly into a job.”
Participants also make connections with peers that they never would have met otherwise.
“If students go to a particular school district like Sayville, when they come to BOCES they enter a classroom with kids from all over,” noted Knoedl. “So their world just blossoms. Now it’s not just the people they know in Sayville. They have a network of friends elsewhere.”
“Some of these kids have never gone out of their own town before,” added McGrath. “Here, their world is changed.”
For more information on Eastern Suffolk BOCES and its programs and services, visit www.esboces.org or call 244-5800.
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