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We can’t deny our public school kids’ gift

Education in New Hampshire must evolve to meet the needs of our growing high-tech workforce. We have a unique opportunity to do this because of a $46 million federal grant that is being offered to New Hampshire public schools through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP.)

Unfortunately, the Fiscal Committee has not accepted this grant, and it is not clear when or if its members will reconsider.

This would make the Granite State the largest recipient of grant funding from the CSP of any state this year. The funding reflects the innovative and bipartisan work New Hampshire has been doing for years, and it would offer our students new and much needed opportunities in public education.

As a professor of Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics at Manchester Community College, I work with students to prepare them to thrive in the workforce. They are learning skills such as robotic programming, computer aided design, 3D printing, electrical control systems, and mechatronics. The students in my program come from all walks of life: Some are doing workforce retraining and some are fresh out of high school – but all are learning the skills that prepare them to better meet the needs of today’s job market and pursue career paths that many weren’t exposed to in high school. My program specifically focuses on technician education to meet the middle-skilled jobs in high demand today.

My second role is as a founding member of Spark Academy of Advanced Technologies, a public charter high school dedicated to preparing kids for the opportunities waiting for them in so many new technical fields. A team of experienced educators founded Spark Academy because we wanted to reach students that could make an impact in the workforce right out of high school. As a charter school, we have the flexibility to provide our students with a curriculum and instruction tailored to their learning-pace and passions. At Spark, we are able to think, plan, and educate “outside the box” for the benefit of our students thanks to the flexibility that the charter school model provides.

My two professional hats afford me the opportunity to know what the workforce demands are, the training that is necessary, and how to prepare and educate both high school students and community college students for the careers awaiting them. We absolutely cannot roll back these vital opportunities.

Instead of rejecting this $46 million grant for New Hampshire, we should pull a team of open-minded educators and business leaders together to creatively put these funds to use. This money could be used to create a synergistic relationship between charter schools, career and technical education (CTE) centers, and the Community College System of New Hampshire.

Dan Larochelle is a founding member and Technical Consultant at Spark Academy of Advanced Technologies, a public charter school in Manchester, and Professor of Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics at Manchester Community College.