(WTNH) – It’s one of Connecticut’s hidden gems. A system of high schools that gets students ready for good jobs right after graduation.
News 8 is profiling some current and recent graduate students that show what technical high schools can do.
*WATCH: News 8’s featured story on Jayden Harris from Eli Whitney Technical High School.*
Jayden Harris oversees a construction crew even though he’s still in high school. The difference is, he goes to Eli Whitney Technical High School.
“You get all this hands-on experience for free without having to graduate and go to a trade school, spending money out of your own pocket,” Harris said. “You get certifications for free.”
Harris specializes in plumbing, and he’s already got his OSHA certification to work on job sites. Through the work-based learning program, he’s already working part-time as an apprentice plumber.
“It’s like a job internship where you go there and get paid and it counts as your school hours when you’re in the shop,” Harris said.
Harris is already making money from his education at a time when many his age are worried about paying for more education.
“Everybody that I know, they say, ‘aw, I should have gone to Eli instead of going to a public school,’ because now they see me have all this experience already, just having my life together and knowing what I want to do with my life,” Harris said.
*WATCH: News 8’s featured story on Kasia Wlazlo from Emmett O’Brien Tech.*
For students learning about manufacturing, making helicopters at Sikorsky Aircraft may be the dream. It came true for Kasia Wlazlo. She started by applying for an internship when she was at Emmett O’Brien Tech.
“Senior year, I applied for it and I got accepted, so I did the summer 8 weeks, and afterward, I just got hired,” Wlazlo said.
Now, she works full-time at Sikorsky, machining parts. She remembers her first day last June.
“There were a lot of people and the helicopters, walking through the line, they were so big and just intimidating,” Wlazlo said.
But with her tech school training, she could handle it. When the company signed a deal to stay in Connecticut back in May, Sikorsky’s president said the school partnership was one reason why.
“We value the strong educational systems here in Connecticut, which provides our workforce from engineers to technicians to assemblers,” said Paul Lemmo, Sikorsky Aircraft President.
The tech schools work with the Teamsters Union for the Career Pathways program that brought Wlazlo to Sikorsky.
“Right after high school, you already have everything set for you if you do the program,” Wlazlo said. “It’s just a really great opportunity to work here.”
One of the misconceptions about technical schools is that people who go to them are giving up on going to college. While she’s working at Sikorsky, Wlazlo is taking online classes to get her bachelor’s degree and some people go straight from a technical school to college, with their sights set on advanced degrees.
*WATCH: News 8’s featured story on Liam Leffler from Kaynor Tech.*
“I want to go to pre-med,” said Liam Leffler, Kaynor Tech senior. “I want to do my pre-med courses and my undergrad probably in biology or biochem and go to med school eventually.”
Liam Leffler is a senior at Kaynor Tech, studying nursing right now.
“It’s basically a rudimentary foundation in CAN, so we get our CAN certification, and we also get just a basic foundation in the sciences,” Leffler said. “Anything to help prepare you for a college education in healthcare.”
By the time he graduates, Leffler will have taken four college classes.
“One that’s tied into this shop specifically, so only if you’re in health tech, you can take it,” Leffler said.
And through the health tech program, he’s already spent time taking care of people at the Beacon Brook Health Center.
“So, we go out to a local health care facility and we actually do our hands-on and work with real people,” Leffler said.
He’s also a certified EMT. His hands-on work in high school has helped him figure things out since he got here.
“I just kind of knew I like medicine, but I started off wanting to be a nurse, and throughout the four years, I’ve kind of gone through a bunch of different jobs and occupations and ended up with wanting to be a forensic pathologist,” Leffler said.
Whether it’s building houses, making helicopters, or making people healthy, state leaders say it’s essential to have a properly trained, home-grown workforce.