WMCC offering programs at high school

CONWAY — If you thought White Mountains Community College had left town just because the building housing the former North Conway satellite campus is now vacant, think again. It is in the process of finding a new home at Kennett High School.

In March, the Berlin-based college said several programs — like massage therapy, veterinary assistant and diesel heavy equipment — would be “strategically transitioned” to the Littleton and Berlin campuses come fall.

The North Conway branch opened in the plaza that also houses TD Bank in 2016, one year before Dr. Charles “Chuck” Lloyd took over as president of the college. But in recent years, it struggled to maintain a robust enrollment.

In a Sept. 28 phone interview, Lloyd (who a few days later became vice chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire) said, “We started the veterinary assistant program there in 2018 and saw some growth. Then COVID hit.”

Lloyd, a Granite State native who studied at Keene State College and Plymouth State, going on to earn his doctorate in education from Northeastern University, said that due to the pandemic, many students chose to earn their credits online, and “today, over 40 percent of students take our courses online.”

As enrollment dwindled, the college decided to end its lease at the North Conway building. But creative minds started to consider other educational venues in the valley.

On Feb. 13, Dr. Kristen Miller, vice president of academic affairs at WMCC, and Lloyd attended a Conway School Board meeting to pitch a collaboration between the two schools, specifically WMCC and the Mt. Washington Valley Career and Technical Center at Kennett.

At the meeting, Miller — herself a Kennett grad — noted that the partnership could put students on a pathway in their junior year to complete college courses they could transfer to a university.

In a phone interview on Monday, Miller said she spearheaded the idea to embed college courses into the high school’s daytime schedule.

“It’s all about making sure college access is available to all students,” she said.

“We already have Running Start courses, which include College Composition, Psychology, Human Biology, Introduction to Criminal Justice, Accounting I, Introduction to Business Logic and Ethics,” she said.

The new collaboration would supplement those courses.

For instance, the criminal justice course taught by Terry Livingston Ballou, a former New York City prosecutor and daughter of Kennett track coach Bernie Livingston, will be joined next semester with courses in criminology and legal ethics to be taught by WMCC instructors.

Other programs like LNA (Licensed Nursing Assistant) and EV (electric vehicle) Technology are up and running or soon will be.

While online instruction is gaining popularity, the hands-on nature of many of both WMCC’s and the Career/Tech Center’s programs necessitate that students are taught by a live instructor.

Both institutions share “vocational” beginnings that evolved with the times. According to Wikipedia, WMCC opened in 1966 as the northernmost campus of the New Hampshire Vocational Institute. From the 1970s-2000s, it had many names, including Berlin Vocational Technical College, New Hampshire Community Technical Collegeand New Hampshire Community College. In 2008, as part of a systemwide overhaul, the school was renamed White Mountains Community College.

The Littleton Academic Center opened in 2009, followed by the North Conway location in 2016.

Closing the North Conway campus was a difficult decision, Lloyd said. “We wanted to make sure we were not leaving our Mount Washington Valley students in the lurch,” he said.

That’s when the concept of starting a branch inside the Kennett campus took root, which dovetailed with a new effort by the state college system to redefine (and rename) some college programs designed to allow high school students to earn college credit while still in secondary school.

The career/tech center seemed the logical place to house the new partnership, said Lloyd, whose presidential post is currently being filled on an interim basis by Melanie Robbins, director of WMCC’s Academic Center.

Housed across a wide swath of space inside Kennett, the Mt. Washington Valley Career and Technology Center offers 11 programs of study: Advanced Manufacturing, Automotive Technology, Business Education, Building Trades, Computer Aided Design and Drafting, Computer Science, Culinary Arts, Graphic Arts, Health Science Technology, Marketing Education and Teacher Education.

Meanwhile, programs like Running Start and eStart have existed for years as part of the community college system. Running Start was recently renamed the Early College at Your High School Program and eStart is now called Early College Online. There is also The Early College on a College Campus program, formerly called Early College.

According to Beth Doiron, director of college access and Department of Education programs and initiatives for the community college system, the programs’ new names, although a bit of a mouthful, got glowing reviews from high school principals across the state as they more closely describe what the programs offer.

The Early College At Your High School program provides advantages to students. It saves money with tuition costing only $150 per course, a real bargain when you consider a typical college course can cost upwards of $600. Even better, thanks to a scholarship program, students can take up to two courses per year for free.

Having a collaboration between a community college and a high school is still “pretty limited,” Doiron said. “Right now it’s just North Conway that is using our faculty for a course on a high school campus,” she said.

Lloyd said the college signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SAU 9 in February to use faculty and space at the career/tech center. But while office space as been set aside for WMCC at the school it’s still empty.

However, the collaboration has certainly begun.

On a tour of the Mt. Washington Valley Career and Technical Center a few weeks ago, Virginia Schrader, director of the center, showed off a Switch EV Glider kit identical to one at the Berlin campus. (According to SwitchLab.com, the kit includes an unpainted glider, all required wiring, two seats, lights, seat belts, windscreen, all components, tools, curriculum and lab kits.)

Schrader said Troy Lachance, automotive technology instructor at WMCC, is coming down on Fridays to teach 16 students who have signed up to learn how to work on EVs (electric vehicles). She also noted the LNA course will be taught at the high school in spring semester (starting in January) by WMCC Nursing Professor Sarah Baillargeon.

Schrader also noted that the aviation program developed in conjunction with the Aviation Academy at Eastern Slope Regional Airport has been a success, with several kids completing solo flights, and that an outdoor recreation program is in the works along with Project Bike Tech, with a grand providing equipment for working on bicycles, including electric bikes.

For WMCC students who are not Kennett students, the only course in the college catalog is Human Anatomy and Physiology I, a four-credit nursing prerequisite offered Thursdays from 3:30-9 p.m. It is taught by Christopher Darling, a science teacher at Kennett and adjunct professor at WMCC.

Hopefully there will be more such courses coming down the pike.

“We’re working on what that looks like,” Miller said. “We want it to be intentional.”

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