New Scholarship Announced for Students Pursuing Careers in Trades

David Chaparro is eyeing a career in carpentry.

The 17-year-old Platt High School senior has enjoyed the woodworking classes he’s taken — so far building furniture and interior home decorations. He could see himself taking the skills he’s honing, and entering the home construction field or a similar pathway.

“It’s fun to me,” Chaparro said of building.

“It’s like a hobby to me. So if I get into a career, woodworking, I would probably enjoy that also.”

So Chaparro is considering enrolling at Bristol Technical Education Center after he graduates from Platt in June.

Similarly, Jose Ayala, who attends Maloney High School, is weighing a career in automotive.

“I work on cars with my dad all the time,” Ayala said, describing that as having sparked his interest in the trade. He learned his way around car engines by working on his father’s old Honda Civic, which had been passed down among members of his family.

“I would like to own my own shop, work on Japanese cars, older cars, build cars — all of that,” Ayala said.

Chaparro and Ayala were among around a dozen seniors from both Platt and Maloney high schools who were audience members learning about a new scholarship program geared to students who plan to pursue vocational and trade educations after graduating from high school. Leaders from the Cuno Foundation, which is funding the scholarship, were joined by Meriden Public Schools officials and educators in making the announcement.

Pete Civitello, superintendent of data integration and post secondary planning, speaks in the media center at Maloney High School in Meriden on Thursday. The Cuno Foundation, in partnership with Meriden Public Schools, announced the Frank E. Davella Vocational School Scholarship during a meeting with school officials, staff and students in the morning.

Cuno Foundation leaders said funding will start at $50,000 for the new program. It is an additional scholarship that supplements the foundation’s longstanding Frank E. Davella Four-Year College Scholarship. That fund, established through a bequest from the late Davella in 1996, has so far awarded more than $5.14 million in college scholarships. The new vocational scholarship will be awarded to students interested in enrolling in a one- or two-year trade school program.

Ayala, upon learning about the scholarship, described it as “ a great opportunity to actually learn what I want to learn, to pursue my dream of making my own shop.” It would ease the cost burden for his family of attending a trade school, Ayala said.

The exact number of scholarships to be awarded has not yet been determined. According to the Cuno Foundation, the scholarships will be awarded based on factors including recipients’ prior academic performance, teachers’ recommendations, applicant s’ financial need, as well as based on interviews with those applicants.

The Cuno Foundation’s distribution committee recognized there was a “void” in assisting students who take the vocational school path toward a career, according to the foundation.

City students from Maloney, Platt, and Wilcox Technical High School, who plan to pursue trade skills, along with high school seniors from surrounding communities with similar pursuits, will be eligible to apply when applications become available in January, according to the Cuno Foundation.

Marisa Wziontko, a school counselor at Platt, said she is excited to relay news of the scholarship back to Platt.

“It’s a huge opportunity for my students that are going into a trade of any sort, so I’ll be very much talking to all of them — explaining what it is. That it’s a huge opportunity to get them on the ground running,” Wziontko said.

Wziontko said students’ vocational interests vary. Some students are interested in automotive, while others are interested in culinary and others still are interested in becoming machinists or cosmetologists.

Yavied Ramos, a senior at Platt, is interested in a career in the automotive industry.

Ramos said he is currently taking an automotive class at Wilcox. He is interested in enrolling at Bristol Technical Education Center after he graduates from high school.

Ramos said he is excited about the opportunity to be able to access a scholarship for trade schools.

Different path

According to Meriden school officials, roughly 30% of graduating seniors each year do not pursue a two- or fouryear degree after high school. Many of those students enter the workforce, some of them the military, and others enroll into vocational programs to acquire trade skills.

David Sharron, a long-time Meriden Public Schools educator, is the district’s new coordinator of career access and opportunities.

Sharron noted that college is not a path for all students.

“But they are interested in pursuing careers, perhaps in vocational areas,” Sharron said. So in addition to the new scholarships, district leaders are looking to expand students’ career education opportunities.

The Devella scholarship gives students the opportunity to pursue vocational school after high school, Sharron said, noting district leaders are excited about the opportunity.

John Stanton, chairman of the Cuno Foundation’s distribution committee, similarly remarked, “In this day and age, not everyone needs to go to college. We need tradesmen, we need carpenters, electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics, medical technicians. College isn’t for everyone. And this program hopefully will further your education in those kinds of areas.”

Tuition at one-year programs like the Lincoln Technical Institute in New Britain can come with a steep price tag.

Tuition at Lincoln ranges between $19,000 to $30,000, depending on the programs students choose.

Zach Burdacki, a 17-year-old senior at Maloney, has his eyes set on a potential career as a welder. Like Chaparro and Ramos, he’s also thinking about enrolling at Bristol Tech after graduating from high school.

“I’ve been learning how to work on cars. But I definitely want to try welding,” Burdacki said, explaining he’s interested in becoming an ironworker. “So working up on the beams, welding on the beams — stuff like that.”

Burdacki said he learned about the industry through his own research related to a potential career in automotive.

“I learned that a lot of things need welding,” Bu rda cki said, noting that it’s not a career that draws a high level of interest. “And you need it.

You need a lot of it.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for welders nationwide is around $47,000.

Expanding options

Meriden school officials, recognizing that close to a third of the school district’s high school graduates will not choose to attend a two- or four-year college, see the scholarship as a boon to their efforts to expand stud ents’ career education options.

Pete Civitello, Supervisor of Data Integration and Post Secondary Planning for the Meriden Public Schools, said conversations are in the works about the potential establishment of a career academy type program for high school students. Last year the school district and Wilcox launched a partnership in which district students are able to obtain credentials in culinary, carpentry, manufacturing and automotive collision. This year, 22 students are enrolled in that program.

Board of Education President Rob Kosienski Jr. and Superintendent Mark D. Benigni both thanked the Cuno Foundation for establishing the new fund. Kosienski noted the fund not only helps students earn trade credentials, it could help local business owners who are looking for skilled employees.

He described it as an opportunity for students to learn those skills.

“The biggest thing we give kids is opportunity,” Kosienski said to the students gathered Wednesday morning.

“This is your opportunity.

Grab it. Take hold of it. Shape it. Make it your own. Then you are going to have some really bright lights and future ahead in your path as you grow up and go into the working world. You guys can do it.”

By Michael Gagne, Record-Journal staff