When we were in middle school, we had no idea what we wanted to do for a career.
A lot of you can probably relate. Heck, we probably had a hard enough time picking out what kind of ice cream to eat, let alone the thing we’d be doing for the majority of our adult lives.
We sure wish there was something like the Concord Regional Technical Center summer camp back then, where students from nine districts can sign up for a one-week crash course in trades like construction, automotive repair and child care or careers such as culinary arts, graphic design and cosmetology.
“These kids are coming from all over,” said CRTC Director Steve Rothenberg. “We want to expose people to what we do.”
Every summer for the last five years, the CRTC has opened its doors to students entering grades six through eight. For four hours a day, the students are immersed in the world of whatever they want to learn about. The classes have about 10 to 15 students in each and the program had almost 100 middle schoolers this year.
“Our goal is to give them an awesome week and a chance to see who we are,” Rothenberg said. “In middle school, you sign up because it sounds fun; you’re not thinking about a career.”
While you might think something like construction would only attract young boys who want to work with power tools and build things, that was not the case for construction technology instructor John Hubbard last week. Of his 11 students, six were girls, and so was his helper for the week.
“The students come with little to no experience,” said Hubbard. “But it shows off the program a little bit and hopefully builds a little self esteem that they can use tools.”
With only a week to build something, Hubbard wanted a project that the kids could get excited about, but also be able to complete. And what middle school student isn’t going to get excited about a tree house. After all, most of them do watch the show, Treehouse Masters.
The kids do everything, from researching the design online to almost all of the building. They learn how to measure, put up walls, the roof and the floor, along with the proper way to use a drill. Don’t worry, parents of future campers, that’s about all they use when it comes to power tools.
“It’s really cool,” said Jonathan McDonald, a student at Rundlett Middle School. “Now I know I can help my dad.”
In automotive, the students did a little bit of everything and all kinds of things that we have no idea how to do. They did oil changes and state inspections for customers, which consists of school district employees, as well as mounted and balanced tires – using hand and air tools, and impact guns.
“Every day, we’ve worked on three to four customer vehicles,” said Craig Emerson, an instructor in the auto program. “A lot of these kids could complete an oil change almost unsupervised.”
After the program got a Lincoln donated for the course, the students got real in-depth with the car. They removed the engine, tires and seats, as well as the entire back end. Let’s just say it’s safe to assume this car won’t see the road anytime soon.
Over time, former students in the actual high school program have brought in and left engines for teaching purposes, so the summer kids got to learn how to take apart and put together complete engines. We wonder how much these kids would charge to do a little work on our rides?
“The summer camp is great because a lot of people don’t say ‘you should become an automotive technician’ but it’s a great career,” said auto instructor Scott Mayotte.
Bob McIntosh, head of the culinary arts program, took the kids on a tour of the world, visiting places like Mexico, Italy, Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Well, they didn’t actually board a plane and need a passport; instead each day they focused on a different food from around the world.
“I have some kids that come in and don’t really cook at home and others that cook a lot,” said Bob McIntosh, instructor of the culinary arts program.
They’d make a complete meal consisting of a main entree, a starch, vegetable and sauces. With many students not knowing their way around a kitchen, McIntosh teaches everything from knife skills to using restaurant grade equipment. They made kabobs and homemade pasta, and the families of these students must have been well fed all week with leftovers being packaged up to take home.
“It’s a crash course, but I still try to incorporate different methods,” McIntosh said.
While we’d love for these students to build us a shed, fix our car and make us dinner, the class we’d want to hang out in most has to be baking.
They made muffins, cookies, cupcakes, breads and pies during the course of the week. Everything was made from scratch, including the fillings for the tarts and the frosting for the cupcakes.
And since baking can be such an exact science, there were a lot of techniques, like measuring and mixing, taught. They even got a bunch of recipes to bring home to practice.
“It’s camp, so you want them to have fun,” said April Hall, who teaches the backing side of the camp.
Of course, the students learned a lot over the course of the week, but it’s also what we like to consider a sneak peek into a future school opportunity and maybe a career.
“I wish I had a program like this when I was in school,” Hubbard said.
It opens their eyes to all the technical center has to offer. Some kids go to the summer camp for all three years they can, often times taking a couple different courses, but some have gone back to the same class in consecutive years.
The CRTC is open to high school juniors and seniors at Concord, Hopkinton, Bow, Merrimack Valley, Pembroke, Pittsfield, Hillsboro-Deering, Kearsarge and John Stark. For more info on the technical center, visit thecrtc.net.