NEWPORT CITY -- North Country Career Center is offering programs that prepare students for high-paying jobs at firms like AnC Bio right out of high school, but so far, not one student is signed up for the mechatronics and robotics program for next year.

As such, the center's Regional Advisory Board is strategizing ways to get students interested in taking career center programs by identifying problems with programs, problems with scheduling, and other roadblocks.

Enrollments for next year's programs show steep declines in a couple programs. Building trades garnered 23 students in 2011 and 2014, and that number is down to 12 in 2015. Green industry technologies went from a high of 14 in 2013 to only six students in 2015. Early childhood development was down to 14 students in 2015, after a high of 24 in 2013.

Programs like health careers and cosmetology still attract a lot of students, with health careers enrolling 56 and cosmetology 31 in 2015, and while there have been declines in some years, the enrollment numbers are pretty steady over the long term.

Rose Mary Mayhew said the numbers she received indicate that 8.3 of every 10 North Country Union High School students take advantage of career center classes, but the numbers are not there when compared against the number of students who complete the two-year programs.

On Tuesday evening, 111 students received certificates of completion.

It doesn't help that the enrollment of North Country Union High School has been in steady decline for years. In 2012, the high school's enrollment was 903, which was down to 806 in 2015. Based on the numbers of students in the lower grades, by 2020 the high school's enrollment is projected to go down to 731 students.

Newport Economic Development Steering Committee member Jim Campbell said when he attended North Country, the enrollment was 1,300. He didn't offer the year of his graduation, but one could assume that tie-dye and long hair was in vogue then while people danced to music from Buffalo Springfield.

The single biggest impediment to attracting students from Lake Region Union High School, which sent only 33 juniors and seniors to career center programs during this school year, appears to be a different style of scheduling.

North Country uses block scheduling, which allows career center students to spend 120 minutes in their programs per period, allowing faculty to develop strong working relationships with students, said Eileen Illuzzi, the center's director, at the board's meeting Wednesday.

But Lake Region has yet to adopt block scheduling. Board member Toni Eubanks attended the meeting Wednesday in lieu of the appointed member Mike Sanville. She said the Lake Region board discusses block scheduling frequently, but no one seems ready to implement it.

The board discussed offering satellite programs for popular programs at Lake Region and Canaan High School.

The board split in small groups to discuss what is known, what information is needed, and where the board will go from here.

Joe Kasprzak of Northeastern Vermont Development Association asked how NCCC sells its programs to students. "It's a sales pitch almost," he said.

Kids are introduced to career center programs very early in school - in elementary grades - and then again in eighth grade and after they get to high school, said Louise Bonvechio of Community National Bank and Effie Brown, an agricultural consultant.

Maybe rather than wooing the students, the board should focus on their parents, suggested Kasprzak. If the board were able to quantify the amount of college costs saved through the center's dual enrollment programs, parents would probably encourage greater enrollments.

Some students can't continue with career center programs if they want to also take AP and foundations courses needed for acceptance at more competitive colleges and universities, Bonvechio said.

Maybe guidance counselors should take part in the board meetings, Brown said. That way they'd be better able to explain programs to students.

If a program is seeing continual decline, perhaps there is an instructor problem, Brown said, not a lack of interest. She suggested that some instructors are sort of skimming along to get a better retirement check rather than really applying themselves and bringing a level of energy to the classroom.

Gillian Staniforth, the guidance coordinator, said in some programs with dwindling enrollment people think they can learn the skills themselves, using her husband and his "Fred Flinstone" handmade table as an example.

More information is needed about the labor market, Kasprzak said. "The businesses really have to step up. They need to be projecting what they need."

Bonvechio agreed, but said staffing at so many businesses is down to bare bones and people just put their noses to the grindstone to get through the days rather than taking time to think forward. All business leaders need to make that change and focus on collaboration, she said.

Too many programs may be spreading the number of students too thin, said Gwen Bailey-Rowe, who runs the adult education program.

All groups agreed that the board simply must ask students why they are choosing or not choosing programs as well as why they leave programs before finishing.

Superintendent John Castle said some of the declines are becoming trends, and the board needs to start thinking about which programs will continue.

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