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At the Coopers Plains BOCES campus, students explore possible future career paths in fields such as woodworking, welding, cosmetology and criminal justice through hands-on experience

Pedal to the Metal

Focused on a project for his welding and machine trades course at BOCES, senior Gabriel Kio measures a piece of metal to make threads on a trailer hitch. “I do more work with machines than welding. I like the course and hope to pursue a career in the machinery field because I am a hands-on learner and enjoy doing different projects with my hands,” Kio said. photos by Alexis Woodcock

     In 2019, a daily walk through the schoolhouse gates doesn’t define a high school education. At Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, students walked onto a college-style campus that diverged from traditional high school classes to offer vocational training and a segue into either technical colleges or directly into the workforce.

     “BOCES is a lot more focused, and they can help you a lot better than a normal high school can,” senior Reagan Hanrahan said. “One of my best friends, he’s a sweetheart, but he’s a very outgoing person. So in a normal classroom, he’d be considered a class clown or super disruptive. But up there, he can take that energy and put it toward actually doing his schoolwork because they’ve found a way to make it work.”       

As opposed to what many might see as busy work, BOCES forewent a lot of paper in favor of more hands-on work. “I have a love for cars, and auto technology gives me a chance to work on them and learn how to fix them and appreciate them,” senior Carson Weiskopff said. “There’s something new every single day, no matter what. It’s never the same thing over and over again.”

     It was the BOCES curriculum that really set it apart for students. “The class runs in two ways. One, there’s the education part where you sit down and write on paper and all that,” junior Jacob Whittier said. “Then there’s the actual part of the learning program, where you actually hands-on weld metals. It’s always been my dream to bring things together in some way, shape or form. I couldn’t really do that with people, because I hardly have any people skills. But with metals, it didn’t seem that hard.”

The Coopers Plains campus itself lent a hand to BOCES students’ learning. “It’s open at BOCES,” Hanrahan said. “At the high school, everything is super close together. Even though at the high school, we have our long hallways, it’s all indoors, so it’s stuffy. At BOCES, it’s super open. It helps you clear your mind, especially if you have anxiety like I do. Being able to step outside and take a deep breath and go ‘okay, get yourself together,’ is very helpful.”

     A BOCES education was never about just here and now; its curriculum worked to send its students into the workforce and prepared them as such. “I needed to find a career, and I figured that working on cars is pretty interesting. Not many girls are into that,” junior Emily Ormsby said. “After high school, I’m going to go to UTI—the Universal Technical Institute—in Orlando. A guy from UTI came and talked to us at BOCES and gave us information, and I was really interested in it.”

     BOCES became a new option for students and a new challenge in its own right. “I would say BOCES isn’t for the faint of heart,” Whittier said. “There has been a couple times where I was like, ‘should I do this? Can I do this right?’ Then I was like, ‘yes, I can. Because I’m still learning. Everyone is still learning.’”

“It’s really fun and really fantastic to work with people knowing they won’t judge you while you’re in the practice of cosmetology. It helps us learn new techniques before we go out into the real world. We also have clients on Thursdays and Fridays in the morning where we have our teachers to help us if we need the help.”

Hallie Peterson, 12

Hands Up
During a BOCES criminal justice session, senior Brittney Milhollen and a classmate practice basic arrest commands. “The people I go with are my favorite part of the program. We’ve started to become a family,” senior Carson Weiskopff said. “My least favorite thing is that I can’t go there all day.”

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