At Berne-Knox-Westerlo Secondary School, Career and Technical Education teachers Joshua Baker and William Dergosits are finding innovative new ways to teach tomorrow’s careers today.
From the new Engineering and Robotics course they designed to the new facilities they’re creating at the school, including an eSports Lab complete with a student-designed and fabricated racecar simulator and a makerspace that doubles as a plastic filament recycling facility – the duo said it’s all about listening to their students and responding to their curiosities.
“The thing that’s unique with our program is that the core of it really doesn’t change, but the technology does evolve,” said Dergosits, a member of the Berne Knox Westerlo Teachers Association. “You have to really be a lifelong learner to do this.”
The strength of the program is that it’s anchored in a systems-based approach, with a heavy emphasis on planning, drawing, design and production. “I always try to come back to that foundation. If we want to do more advanced things, we still have to go back to those basic concepts to be successful,” said Baker, also a member of the BKW TA. “Students have to be able to visualize how things work and then conceptualize how things go together.”
CTE programs like theirs are expensive to run, and a lack of state funding is a deterrent for many districts. Dergosits sympathizes with that. “We want our kids to learn but cutting that board the wrong way three or four times is expensive,” he said. Sometimes, technology can be helpful on that front, too, serving sometimes as a stand-in for supplies. For instance, he said, the district uses Wrench, a virtual reality tool that simulates auto repair, so students can virtually take an engine apart before they get their hands on the real thing.
Still, Dergosits and Baker often find themselves in fundraising mode and when they do, they pass those skills along to students as well. “We’re throwing in some budgetary stuff. We’re throwing in some of that applied math. Some proposal writing,” said Dergosits. “And we’re showing them why those skills from other classes matter.”
Currently, their students are restoring a 1976 Corvette Stingray. When completed, the car will be auctioned off to raise money for future CTE projects. In a perfect blend of traditional and high-tech that the two teachers have become so known for, the classic car will be rebuilt using both old auto parts and new parts that students design and manufacture at the school.
CTE teachers are in short supply across New York State, and where districts can afford to hire them - and successfully recruit them - instructors are keeping their shoulders to the wheel. Dergosits and Baker teach grades 7 through 12 and serve as advisors for multiple afterschool clubs. “Bill and I both teach a different class every period,” Baker said. “One of the hardest parts is finding projects and keeping stuff interesting.”
Dergosits said CTE has been his passion since college, but he was steered away from the profession initially by advisors who said it wasn’t a sure bet. “I had some counselors at the time who pointed out that there’s only two tech teachers per district and a lot more elementary teachers so why don’t you try the higher odds, and they kind of pushed me in that direction.” Dergosits started his career as an elementary school teacher, wiring Promethean boards on the weekend for fun before he was offered the Technology Teacher position at the secondary school in 2021.
The goal of their program is to prepare students to enter the 21st century workforce, but more importantly, it is to expose them to new experiences that might turn into a lifelong passion, Dergosits said.
“It’s students’ interests and input which pushes them forward. They play a huge role in how they develop and the direction they go in. Their voices are extremely important,” Dergosits said.
For more profiles and stories on CTE programs in public schools in New York State, visit nysut.org/cte.