York Tech a leader in bringing academic program to vocational schools

Aislinn Abbott has a goal of starting a robotics program for special needs students.

“I’ve been involved in robotics for a long time," said Aislinn, 16, an 11th-grade student at York County School of Technology, and through her service learning project, she saw an opportunity to bring in a team that had been unavailable in that area.

The team would help elementary-age special needs students with academic, motor and social skills — and teach them some basic programming, too.

York County School of Technology junior Aislinn Abbot works in a machining lab at the school Friday, October 12, 2018. She is studying in the school's International Baccalaureate Career-related Program. In the future she hopes to use her skills in a biomedical field. Bill Kalina photo

It's one of the opportunities she's received through the school's International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme — a new offering this fall which allows students to combine their technical program with the rigorous academic courses recognized in IB.

It also gives them a chance to push their technical skills further.

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Instructors are already teaching each technical program to a high standard, said the school's IBCP coordinator Jody Kessinger, but now they get the added advantage of four core components: personal-professional skills, service learning, a reflective project and language development.

"It gives us a platform," Aislinn said, noting that now students have a chance to explore more of what interests them in relation to their fields.

York County School of Technology junior Angela Gonzalez shoots photos during class at the school Friday, October 12, 2018. She is studying in the school's International Baccalaureate Career-related Program. In the future she hopes to use her skills working in film. Bill Kalina photo

Career-minded: The International Baccalaureate program is not new — it is recognized worldwide as a competitive academic standard.

The majority of schools in the country offer IB courses, Kessinger said, but the IBCP program was introduced in 2014 as an alternative for students who wanted to compete with their peers academically without compromising their career-focused learning.

“What IB recognized was we have students who are not only academically motivated, but they’re also motivated in a specific career pathway,” she said.

“It means a lot to us,” said the school's director, David Thomas, on bringing the program to the school.

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"We have such a wide variety of students here, and I wanted to make sure that we had some challenging things for all of our students — we have some pretty high flyers here," he said.

After learning about the program at a national conference for the Association for Career and Technical Education, the school went through a two-year process to become an IB World School.

The state's director of career and technical education put out an incentive for any technical school in the state that wanted to apply to become an IBCP school, covering the fee of the first application.

York Tech has 11 students in the program this year. Thomas said he had been hoping for at least six.

"It’s something new, it’s something very challenging, and it’s a lot of work," he said.

York County School of Technology International Baccalaureate Career-related Program coordinator Jody Kessinger talks about the program the school Friday, October 12, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

Leading the country: And York Tech is leading the charge in bringing the program to vocational schools.

Though 108 schools in the country offer IBCP in addition to other IB programs, York Tech is one of three that offer the program exclusively and the only comprehensive technical school with that distinction, according to the IB website.

The other two are Owen J. Roberts High School in Pottstown, Montgomery County, and ACE Charter School in Camarillo, California — which focuses on architecture, construction and engineering.

Only five schools in Pennsylvania — including York Tech — provide the program.

As part of the program, students have to choose a career pathway and complete 50 documented hours of work, and "our students are well over those hours," Kessinger said.

The school is already known for four-year studies in 26 technical programs, which students can't get anywhere else, she said, adding, “we now also offer an academic side to that that you can’t get anywhere else.”

How it works: Before IBCP, students could take one or more AP courses, but now they must take a minimum of two diploma program courses — which are slightly more rigorous than AP — and one is required to stretch over two years.

The other course, as well as the core components, must be completed within two years, and then students will earn a certificate and take an external exam for college credit, where accepted.

“So really what it did was incorporate more of their technical program into what they’re doing academically," Kessinger said.

For example, in their service learning projects, students get to apply their skills in new ways.

"I'm a hands-on kind of guy," said Cameron Leubecker, 16, who is studying automotive technology. He will be putting together auto parts for props in the school's steam-punk theatrical version of "Alice in Wonderland."

"I’m to make a cake plate for the Mad Hatter scene, so I’m putting together some parts such as a brake rotor or a flywheel and a small crank shaft," he said.

Angela Gonzalez, 16, who is studying communications technology, is also volunteering as stage manager for the play to prepare her to be a director, and culinary arts student Rebecca Jay, 16, is organizing a food drive at a local Royal Farms convenience store, where she also works.

Looking ahead: Given that it kicked off this fall, the school hopes to welcome even more students into the program next year.

"We see it expanding," Thomas said, especially for technical disciplines such as sports technology that have a coordinated IB course.

Kessinger has already been contacted by five students who are interested.

"The kids are definitely talking," she said.

An announcement will be made in the spring, and those considering the program can meet with Kessinger to learn more about it before applying in April.

Though not exclusive to upperclassmen, students typically complete the program in grades 11-12.

“It’s not for everyone, of course, but it’s available, and I think that’s the big thing," Kessinger said. "We’re always trying to find something that we can offer students that gives them a leg up, that gives them an advantage over their peers.”