By Bill Cantwell
---- — For students at Whittier Regional High, it’s time to step out of the mid-1900s — literally.
They will make the trip with some money from the state and help from a local company founded by a Whittier graduate.
Whittier machine shop students have been training on lathes that came from the old Haverhill Trade School and are 50 years old.
But thanks to a $45,420 grant from the state, those machine technology students will get 11 new machines on which to hone their machining skills.
The grant is part of $1.1 million that the state’s Vocational School Equipment Program gave 25 Massachusetts schools to buy equipment necessary to prepare them for the modern work force.
Whittier officials said they will also use the grant money to buy four HAAS Controller Simulators to supplement the three the school currently has. That equipment will allow all students in the program to work on programming to design machine parts at the same time.
The program will also receive a Computerized Numerical Control Milling Center, which students use to cut material and make parts. A local business — Little Enterprises, Inc. — donated the used milling machine worth $25,000, school officials said.
Little Enterprises Owner Scott Little is a Whittier graduate who opened his machine shop more than 20 years ago in his garage. He now employs 12 Whittier graduates and several co-op students at his Ipswich facility.
He calls Whittier his “feeder system.”
“Scott has been a great co-op partner, not only for day-school but also for night-school students,” said Paul Moskevitz, Whittier’s machine technology instructor. “I know who to send him and he hires our kids, no questions asked. Some have been there for 20 years.”
The grant money is a boon to Whittier’s machine technology program, Moskevitz said.
“It’s up-to-date machinery that our students will be using in the trade on their co-op jobs and after they graduate and get a job,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray recently completed visits to all 64 vocational technical school programs in the state. He announced the grant recipients, along with Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor and Secretary of Education Matthew Malone.
“If we’re serious about making sure we’re filling the jobs available in the various regions of the state, we have to make sure the workforce we’re training is being trained on the equipment out in the field,” Murray said. “It’s going to require some capital, but it’s not a budget-buster.”
Murray said that during his visits to the schools, he saw several successful programs with strong MCAS scores and lower dropout rates than many traditional high schools. But he said he also saw a need to update equipment used to train students.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration carved $5 million out of the existing five-year capital budget for the vocational school equipment grant program. Murray said the administration might eventually ask for more money from lawmakers.
The grants were awarded to schools after a competitive grant proposal process which included applications from 165 districts, requesting a total of $4.7 million. The grants awarded ranged from $100,000 to the machine technology program at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School District to $4,000 to the culinary department at Berkshire Hills Regional School District.
The 64 vocational technical programs in Massachusetts enroll more than 44,000 students. They support a range of career fields, especially growing workforce sectors such as advanced manufacturing, clean energy and information technology. Many regional school districts and programs also partner with area businesses and community colleges to prepare the next generation of skilled workers.
“These grants afford our vocational school students an opportunity to keep a competitive edge in the job market,” Malone said.