By Diana Bowley of the BDN Staff: DEXTER, Maine — Standing at a table covered by a wired wooden contraption, Nokomis Regional High School sophomore Dylan Boyce was deeply engrossed on a recent day.
Boyce was engaged in a project that used a solar photovoltaic panel and electrolysis to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water to produce hydrogen gas. His emphasis was on using green energy to produce hydrogen gas. While this experiment is not new, the use of free green energy using a solar panel is unique and is what’s helping keep Boyce in school.
“I wanted to drop out of Nokomis, but they found me a better route here,” Boyce said of the new energy program for nontraditional ninth- and 10th-grade students offered at Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter.
The Career Pathways course, which began in September and focuses on exploratory-type career activities such as renewable energy, alternative energy and green conservation-type activities, is designed for students who don’t see the relevance of school, according to Nick Vafiades, the center’s director.
While the technical school typically serves junior and seniors, Vafiades said he and the regional board members in SADs 41, 68, 4, 48 and 46 saw the need to offer a program to younger students who weren’t engaged in high school because they saw no meaning in it and who were at a high risk of dropping out.
Much of the program is funded through the federal Carl D. Perkins grant for vocational and technical schools.
“I think the program is absolutely fantastic,” SAD 4 Superintendent Paul Stearns said Thursday. “Anything that we can do to support vocational technical training for students, I think, is going to be a real boost to their success. We’re going to be matching educational programming to demands from the work force.”
Although the green technologies have been a draw for the approximately 20 students enrolled at the center, it also helps that instructor Steven Hughes, who has a background working with thermal and solar energy, and his assistant Steffan Duplessis, who has a background in social behavior, are easy to approach for help
As Boyce, aided by Dillon Hutchinson, a Foxcroft Academy sophomore, worked to alter the results of the hydrogen gas experiment, Hughes offered encouragement.
“You have some kids that take right off on this and to me that’s a success,” Hughes said recently. “I would say this program has been a success.”
Hughes said the program gives the students an opportunity to experience the different technologies that are available. For example, using a design he made, the students helped construct a solar ice-fishing trap called SPIFT that they plan to demonstrate soon on Lake Wassookeag. A small solar power panel wired onto the fish trap propels the flag back and forth when a fish strikes the bait during sunny weather.
The students also learn how residential wiring is done, how to hook up a domestic hot water heater, how to build solar panels, and take apart and reassemble electric motors from spare parts donated by local home heating oil businesses. The class is for exposure to new activities and not for certification.
“It’s fun; we like the hands-on duty,” Ethan Sargent, a Foxcroft Academy sophomore, said recently. “It makes it a lot easier to go to school.”
Although the green conservation-type activities were not his “cup of tea,” Matt Taft, a Nokomis sophomore, said the Career Pathways program has given him a different perspective of the types of jobs he could get in the future.
For Boyce, however, it truly has made a difference. “I think this is definitely a better way” to keep students like him in school. “In all reality, the center has helped me out a lot.”
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