Woodshop students construct bat houses

Students in Mark Vanyush’s woodshop class help build bat houses for Barry Genzlinger and the Vermont Bar Center in 2018. Classes like this one could be part of the Innovation Center coming to Milton High School in 2022. 

MILTON — What does life look like after high school? For many students, the answer is can be unclear, and Milton educators want to help.

To meet the needs of students and local businesses, Milton High School is working to launch an Innovation Center, or professional development program, in the next year.

The center will corral the school’s work-based learning curriculum in one place, expand internships and job-shadowing opportunities and prepare students to enter the local workforce.

Co-principal Mary Jane Stinson, Superintendent Amy Rex and Work Based Learning Coordinator Christina Reider are leading the charge on this initiative.

“At the high school, we really work in our classrooms to connect what students are learning to real world applications,” Reider said. “It’s great to talk about and to teach about, but we want to make those bridges and those connections so students can actually see those lessons in action.”

Due to the Flexible Pathways legislation of 2013, many of Vermont’s public high schools, including MHS, already offer a variety of work based learning opportunities for students. Having an Innovation Center though, would set Milton apart.

“I know other schools are teaching some basic employment 101 classes, some basic soft skills,” Reider said. “But we're really trying to connect the curriculum so they can get academic credit while studying a career or profession.”

Last spring, just before the start of the pandemic, Stinson and Rex brought the idea for the Innovation Center before Milton’s Economic Development Commission.

The commission, made up of Town staff as well as business and community representatives, responded positively and with a willingness to help.

Stinson said Husky, the injection molding company, and R.R. Charlebois, a heavy truck dealership, both in Milton, are very interested in helping MHS move the program forward.

“We have opportunities here within our local town that a lot of students aren't familiar with,” Reider said. “We want to open those doors so students can see all the amazing things happening right here.”

Reider has been the high school’s work based learning coordinator for the last three years. For 10 years prior, she was a special educator in the district.

While in that position, she discovered a passion for helping students plan for their futures.

“One of the common threads I found as a special educator was that for students who are struggling in school, a huge piece of keeping them engaged is finding what their passion is and how it can be connected to a future career,” she said.

A recent survey about careers sent to MHS students by Reider found students’ top fields of interest to be technological sciences, performing arts and business management.

“Those results line up very nicely with some of the businesses that are asking for help and are seeking future employees,” she said.

Stinson hopes the program will match students with a local business in their field of interest. For example, a student looking to have a career in the arts might shadow staff at the Milton Artists’ Guild.

Before students enroll at Vermont Technical College or at a four-year university, Stinson thinks they should be able to have hands-on experience.

“Figuring out what you don’t like is just as important as knowing what you do want,” she said. “Kids don’t often get to dabble before they make a commitment, and we want to change that.”

The Innovation Center will be open to students in grades 9-12 and could expand to include the district’s older middle school students. It will bring together Milton educators from a variety of disciplines, like engineering, woodworking, computer science and theater.

“We're using some of the talent and expertise we have within the building and pulling it together to support and move this forward,” Stinson said.

Reider is drawing inspiration for Milton’s program from a recently-launched professional development center at Spaulding High School in Barre. She’s also working with UP for Learning and Generator, a business incubator in Burlington that provides studio space, workshops and classrooms.

This spring and summer, Reider will continue to work with students, district staff and local businesses to envision the center. She expects to launch a small pilot program this fall, with the full center launching in 2022.

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