Interest in P-Tech, Marine Trades swells (The Valley Breeze)

By NICOLE DOTZENROD, Valley Breeze Staff Writer

NORTH PROVIDENCE – At North Providence High School, motivated students are getting a jump-start on college and career by enrolling in one of two career and technical education programs, offering them the opportunity to earn college credits and hands-on job training while in high school.

“We have 15-year-olds sitting in college courses,” says Melissa Caffrey, director of the school’s “P-Tech” health care program. “The model provides multiple opportunities for kids to take on high school, college and career all at the same time.”

P-Tech enrollment doubles

Enrollment in the high school’s P-Tech program doubled in its inaugural year, growing from 41 students last semester to 82 this fall. P-Tech, which stands for Pathway Technology Early College High, was NPHS’s first CTE-accredited program approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education.

P-Tech students have the potential to graduate high school with a free associate’s degree from the Community College of Rhode Island, all while receiving on-the-job training with corporate partners in the health care industry. Twenty-five students took their first college course over the summer, some as young as 15 years old, according to Caffrey.


Caffrey said NPHS’s P-Tech program is unique in its collaborative effort between three essential “communities,” including the school district, higher education institutions and industry partners.

North Providence High School, which serves as home base for the program, was one of 20 school districts selected nationwide for initial implementation of the Summit Learning Platform, an online resource and teaching tool personalizing education for each student’s unique needs. Summit does not replace teacher instruction, but allows every student to “progress in a given subject matter at his or her own pace,” said Caffrey.

“We absolutely loved this model for the P-Tech program because of the self-directed piece, which is such an important concept in college,” she said.

If students are deemed proficient in a subject by their teacher/mentor, they may move ahead, while those who need more time or one-on-one time are afforded extra help. Students meet weekly with teacher/mentors, a personalization that Caffrey said helps create a bond between teacher and student.

While students simultaneously work to complete their standard high school requirements, they’re enrolled in health science courses at CCRI in Lincoln, where they’ll earn a minimum of 60 college credits. They’re given up to six years to complete the program, but Caffrey anticipates most will be “very close to finishing” by the time they graduate high school. All students will graduate as certified CNAs and EMTs if they pass exams.

“When the program started, CCRI did not offer a health care pathway, so they built one for us,” she said of the school’s primary collegiate partner. “Those courses were created so students can obtain a health science associate degree at no cost to them and their family.”

The third element of the program’s success, according to Caffrey, is the industry partners, which include CharterCARE, Lifespan, Fatima Hospital, Golden Crest Nursing Home, Brookdale Senior Living, New England EMT and more. By participating in internships, mentorships and job shadowing with corporate sponsors, students receive real-world training while establishing connections for future employment.

“It’s a win-win for our industry partners, who can help mold the sort of employees they want,” said Caffrey. “The industry partners really provide a lot of insight, field experience and steady exposure to workplace opportunities for our students.”

North Providence High School Principal Joseph Goho said, “I’d tell any middle or high school student that, if they’re interested in the medical field, this is the best deal in town.”

While high schools across the state are working overtime to put out a high number of CTE programs to attract out-of-district students, Goho said NPHS has taken the opposite approach by focusing on its two existing programs.

“We want to be able to do these two well, preparing kids for college acceptance and career, all while being a comprehensive high school,” he said. “Our goal is to offer pathways that fit seamlessly into our overall school program.”

Marine Trades makes waves

Marine Trades, North Providence’s newest CTE program, was given preliminary RIDE approval in June and is expected to receive full approval when the work-based experience component of the program is finalized. On any given school day, students in the program are hard at work in the classroom and in the lab, building boats from scratch under the guidance of instructor Kevin McKiernan.

“The Marine Trades industry is starving for new blood,” said McKiernan, who came to NPHS in January of 2017 after a career in boatbuilding and teaching marine systems at the IYRS School of Technology & Trades. Since then, McKiernan has helped grow the Marine Trades program at NPHS from one to three classes.

Goho said McKiernan is both skilled in this area and also wants to teach.

“We are so incredibly fortunate to have found someone like Mr. McKiernan in such a specialized area,” he said.

As with the P-Tech program, the Marine Trades program has a number of industry partners, including the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association. McKiernan, who sits on RIMTA’s education board, said he’s working to increase the employment pipeline to the industry. NPHS is also in the process of adopting the American Boat and Yacht Council’s high school curriculum, which will afford students industry-recognized credentials.

A $50,000 grant from RIDE recently allowed NPHS to expand their offerings to focus on marine systems, which include marine electrical, plumbing and propulsion; which includes gas and diesel engines and transmissions. This is in addition to the plywood and traditional boat building techniques that they’re currently learning.

The concept for the program began roughly four years ago, when Henry Marciano worked with Mayor Charles Lombardi to establish an after-school boatbuilding program at the town’s two middle schools. The program still exists today, with 107 students participating at that level.

“The middle school program served as the springboard for us. The kids there did so well and there was so much interest that we wanted to start it here at the high school,” said Goho, adding that the middle school course provides a head start for those interested in continuing the program in high school.

“RIDE is really excited that we are the only school in state with a middle school marine trades team,” he said. “They are excited for the possibility of a high school program because the Birchwood program in place is very unique and is flourishing.”

Goho said students in the program gain college and career-readiness skills, but also an appreciation for the relevance of their other coursework.

“When they’re sitting in math class, they may wonder: when am I ever going to use this? Then, they go down and use it to build boats,” he said. “They become so much more engaged.”