From northjersey.com: Inside PCTI: North Jersey students share why they chose tech over their local high school

September 6th, 2019

Passaic County Technical Institute.

Read this article as it originally appeared Aug. 29, 2019 on northjersey.com

Passaic County Technical Institute in Wayne is not your average high school. Its 3,700 students spend much of their time building parts for NASA, cooking professional-quality meals and working in paid co-ops for real-world experience. But that’s just part of the picture.

The school opened its doors in Wayne over 40 years ago. Today, PCTI has programs in engineering, culinary arts, auto technology, arts, business and construction technology.

“Our programs are industry-driven. As we grow and expand, we look at the industry demand and provide the training in accordance to that,” says Mark A. Cacace, the supervisor of instruction. “We prepare students for college and career readiness, so whether they decide to pursue higher education or not, they’ll have the experience they need to succeed.”

Students spend from 100 minutes (freshman, sophomore and junior students) to 140 minutes (seniors) per day in their technical areas.

Meet four of them here.

Hensley Jean Baptiste
Grade: Rising junior

Hometown: Paterson

Studying: Engineering, “but manufacturing would also be really good.”

What made you choose a technical/vocational school instead of going to the school in your town?

“Tech is a really good school — so many opportunities. The [mechanical and wood] shops and other resources are at our disposal. My local high school is kind of dangerous and doesn’t have as many opportunities as here.”

How has your thinking regarding education and career goals changed since you started at PCTI?

“This place is kind of hard, so it helped me become less of a procrastinator and more committed to the things I’m doing in life. It really helped me get my act together.”

What’s a highlight at PCTI?

“Just working in the shop is great, and I run track, too.”

Any advice for parents or students on the fence about whether to apply to a vocational school?

“This place will provide a lot of opportunity for you, it helps you become more culturally aware and there are so many resources. Your mind will definitely expand. There’s a lot you’ll miss out on if you choose to go to other schools.”

Nadia Aboukaram
Grade: Rising sophomore

Hometown: Wayne

Studying: Cosmetology. “I’ve been doing it for a while, and I really like doing hair, makeup, nails and all that. I one day want to own my own salon and get involved in the business aspect of it — hopefully have my own brand.”

What made you choose a technical/vocational school instead of going to the school in your town?

It’s really beneficial for me to go here, because if I pass my State Board test I’ll graduate with my license [in cosmetology]. So, ultimately this school will give me a boost for my career in the future. Whether I follow this or go more down the business route, I’ll always have this [license] as a back-up. Other high schools, I wouldn’t have that.”

How has your thinking regarding education and career goals changed since you started at PCTI?

“There are definitely a lot higher expectations when you come here, because they want you to be the best you can be, especially since you have an extra class on top of your regular classes. So they want you to just excel in whatever you do. But in my opinion, it’s not pressure, it’s motivation.”

What’s a highlight at PCTI?

“Definitely ‘Wellness Day,’ where I got to experience working on real people and interacting with them. People came down to the gym, and they could either get their nails done, or they could get a back massage. So that was really cool to experience the two different things.”

Any advice for parents or students on the fence about whether to apply to a vocational school?

“Think about it carefully, because it was a big decision for me. But just don’t give up, because the beginning was definitely hard for me [at PCTI]. But I paved my way through and I got through the first year, so just keep trying.”

Lindsay Fiorellini
Grade: Rising senior

Hometown: Wayne

Studying: Video production. “When I was little, I watched a lot of YouTube, and I liked the way that people told stories. So I kind of wanted to try it out myself, especially after visiting the school. I saw the studio and fell in love with it. And so that’s what I applied for during my eighth grade, and I got in for it.

What made you choose a technical/vocational school instead of going to the school in your town?

“My district school is Wayne Valley, and my older brother and my older sister went there. They had a fun time, but my other older sister came here and she liked it. I wanted to try a new experience and meet new people, and I think it’s really benefited me.”

How has your thinking regarding education and career goals changed since you started at PCTI?

I learned here at PCTI to work more, and that it’s only going to benefit you.

What do you feel you are missing out on of by not going to the local school you would have attended?

“I feel like I definitely gained more coming here. I got the experience of playing varsity sports and of the concentrated area I’m studying. I think that’s a huge gain, instead of just going to college, trying things out and being like, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t like this,’ and wasting money. Here I get to experiment with it and do what I want with it before I step into the work field.”

What’s a highlight at PCTI?

“Definitely interviewing people. l do a lot of documentaries for the shop, and I actually got to interview a couple of past opioid addicts and see their experience through their own eyes. I sat in a room with them for a couple hours, and just listened. That’s been a big tool I learned at PCTI: just listening and telling people’s stories.”

What does a typical day look like for you?

“I come to school every day and I go through my regular periods and come to the [newsroom studio] for two and a half periods. When I’m doing a project, I spend the whole time editing and filming. I spend a lot of time filming my projects outside of school, though, so it gives me a lot more time in school to use the programs on the computer.”

Any advice for parents or students on the fence about whether to apply to a vocational school?

“You have to make the best choice for yourself, and even if you have a ton of friends back home, if they’re really your friends, they’re going to stay your friends even if you come to a different school. Put yourself first and just go for it. If worse comes to worst, you can come here and go back, but you can’t just come in halfway through your high school career. But if you really don’t like it, you can always go back, so just take the chance. ”

Matthew Behnke
Grade: Rising senior

Hometown: North Haledon

Studying: Automotive technology, “because I like working with my hands and it just seemed like fun to me.”

What do you feel you are missing out on by not going to the local school you would have attended?

“I definitely would’ve missed out more if I went to my local school over here. Here, you get the shop, and everything is way more accelerated. You never feel stuck behind in any way.”

What does a typical day look like for you?

“Normally we have a period, or 40 minutes, of classroom work, and then we come out to my favorite place — the shop — and work on teachers’ cars and cars that were donated to the school.”

What’s the most exciting/fun thing you’ve done at PCTI?

“It’s just great that we actually work on real cars and not model cars or anything like that. You definitely get lifelong experience. We get our hands dirty.”

Any advice for parents or students on the fence about whether to apply to a vocational school?

“You don’t really got anything to lose. … Even if you don’t choose to follow that career path, you’ll at least gain the skill and have the knowledge that you don’t want to pursue that specific path when you go to college or wherever.”

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