By Bergen County Technical Schools superintendent Dr. Howard Lerner, and Bergen Community College president Dr. Michael D. Redmond
Voters wondering why they should support the Securing Our Children’s Future bond referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot should take a look at the most innovative high school in Bergen County: The Applied Technology High School (ATHS), where nearly half of the first graduating class will receive associate’s degrees before their high school diplomas.
This opportunity, developed by the Bergen County Technical Schools (BCTS), Bergen Community College (the College), major industry partners and government officials, led by Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco III, represents a shining example of the innovative career and technical education opportunities that the bond referendum could support.
When ATHS launched in 2015 with support of both county and state funds, Tedesco said the goal was to “provide rigorous academic instruction while preparing students to pursue the careers in the industries of tomorrow,” outlining this progressive partnership to enhance student learning and achievement.
As part of this high school, we sought to recruit thinkers and problem-solvers – students who may have had average grades in middle school, but were ambitious, energetic and curious about how the world works.
Students would learn to apply math, science and technology to hands-on projects in automation, electronics and advanced manufacturing while also taking appropriate courses at the College. Ultimately, this would allow them to earn advanced standing in several degree programs at the No. 1 ranked community college in the state, including an A.A.S. in general engineering technology.
That makes this school incredibly important to students – it provides them with a path to a college degree.
ATHS is also important to the industry partners who helped create it, including Stryker Orthopaedics in Mahwah. Like many highly-technical companies, they have trouble finding people with the skills necessary to fill well-paying jobs. They don’t need assembly-line employees – robots do that work – but they do need people who are prepared to design, create and maintain the highly-technical systems that drive their businesses.
Of course, this unique high school experience is important to parents too. With the cost and debt associated with a four-year college degree spiraling out of control, career options that can be launched with industry credentials and an associate’s degree are attracting increasing attention.
ATHS students have the opportunity to qualify for industry credentials and earn 24-36 college credits for their high school work – at no cost to students and families. The College even offered discounted tuition for ATHS students who wanted to take additional courses during the summer.
Those who take advantage of these additional opportunities can earn a two-year degree at a total cost of about $2,200 – before they graduate from high school!
This is the kind of industry-supported, county vocational-technical school/college partnership that the Securing Our Children’s Future bond referendum is designed to sponsor throughout the state.
The ballot question would provide funding to build high-tech shops and labs in fields like manufacturing, logistics and distribution, aviation and drone technology, medical technology, welding, construction, and clean energy, and prepare high school students and adults for well-paying careers in these industries.
It is an investment that will provide strong returns for New Jersey.
Businesses need technically-prepared employees in order to expand and generate more corporate tax revenue. Young people need pathways to family-sustaining careers that will keep them in New Jersey at higher salaries, leading to more income tax revenue.
Beyond the direct impact to students, families and businesses, though, this investment in education represents a down payment on our future that will yield dividends for all of us – whether we have children or not. That’s why this program has such potential – it makes Bergen County a better place for everyone through the promise of progress and innovation.
Meanwhile, ATHS continues to grow thanks to our expanding partnership. This year, we launched a health professions program with a freshman class of 30 students. This is not for young people who want to be doctors; it’s for students seeking careers in the increasingly-technical health care industry – the No. 1 employment sector in Bergen County.
It was a perfect fit: Industry demand for tech-savvy health care professionals; parents and students clamoring for career-focused learning options; a brand-new – and the region’s only – Health Professions Integrated Teaching Center on the College’s campus … and a very successful model at ATHS.
The Securing Our Children’s Future bond referendum is a part of our state’s strategic workforce development that will create more programs and career pathways. It will benefit New Jersey’s economy and young people throughout the state.
Howard Lerner, Ed.D., is Superintendent of Schools, Bergen County Technical Schools District.
Michael D. Redmond, Ph.D., is President of Bergen Community College.