By Patrick McArdle
A group of educators and students from Stafford Technical Center spoke with Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) on Monday, April 2 after Vermont’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives said he wanted to know what political leaders could do to improve educational opportunities.
At the school, Welch explained the issue was finding ways to keep young Vermonters in their home state by providing the training they need to make a living in Vermont. He encouraged the students and staff to do most of the talking, and explain what they thought Stafford could offer or how it was helping them to find their next steps.
Dawson Cole said he had come to Stafford because he wanted to be a lineman, inspired by his father, who works for Green Mountain Power.
“It looks so cool. I figured I would come here and get the basics of electricity and stuff,” he said.
Cole was one of several students who said they would need to go to New York to get the next steps in their training. But he said he believed his education at Stafford would give him a head start.
Jared Poczobut, a Mill River Union High School student, said he was planning to transition from what he learned at the Stafford culinary program to a career in the hospitality industry.
“I love event planning. I love traveling. I love interacting. It just came together that my life means I should be in hospitality,” he said.
Poczobut was another student who said he planned to go on to his next level of education out of state, in Hyde Park, New York.
Madeline Morse, a Poultney High School student, wants to spend more time on baking and pastries. She may have an edge over other students in the program, as she already has an online cupcake business she runs through the Facebook page, “Cupcakes by Maddie & Uncle Shawn.”
Morse started the business five years ago when she was 13.
“I’ve always had a passion for baking,” she said.
Asked where she got the interest, Morse said, “Definitely not my mom,” but said her Hungarian great-grandmother also had an interest in baking.
“(My mother) does some baking, but I’ve definitely one-upped her,” she said.
Welch said he was impressed by the students who spoke, including Eric McDonnell, who said he plans to use the public-safety education he got at Stafford to pursue a career as an EMT.
However, Welch said that while he would like to encourage the success of schools like Stafford Technical Center, education funding was primarily a state issue.
Welch said he understood the difficulties faced by local school district officials who wanted students to have opportunities they could get from a technical school, but who were reluctant to lose the funding that Vermont awards per pupil.
Cynthia Dunigan, the school’s outreach coordinator, said she was frequently part of those conversations with the staff at other schools. She said she understood the funding concerns, but believed most educators wanted the best opportunities for students.
Finding the right funding mechanism is especially important, according to electricity and plumbing teacher John Bixby, who said he could place more students into jobs than just the students who attend classes at Stafford.