June 26, 2019

Arboriculture at BCAHS Preps Students for Jobs/Higher Education

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Students at Bristol County Agricultural High School’s Arboriculture program are getting the thorough preparation needed for a career working with trees, whether they want to enter the workforce right after high school, continue their education in college, or seek advanced degrees in the field. There are job opportunities ranging from working for tree services, to managing forestry areas and natural resources, to studying diseases and insects that prey upon trees. Employers hiring BCAHS students find they are well trained in safety, industry “best practices” and are confident in handling equipment. BCAHS students who go on to college find that they have a good foundation of relevant skills and knowledge that puts them ahead in their classes.

Unique Four-Year Program
The BCAHS program is unique in that it is the only four-year dedicated arboriculture high school program in the country - focusing entirely on every aspect of preparing for getting a job in the industry and/or post-secondary education in the field. Most schools offer arboriculture as a two-year part of another department. The BCAHS curriculum includes both hands-on experiential learning and scientific knowledge about everything pertaining to trees from the soil microbiology to the topmost branches, the biology of trees, insects and disease.

Opportunity to Train with Specialized Equipment
The program is also unique in the extensive array of equipment it owns, affording students the opportunity to practice with equipment most other students wouldn’t have a chance to touch until after being employed in the industry. The school owns a skid steer, a mini skid steer, a bucket truck, two wood chippers and two splitters, in addition to a roomful of chain saws, climbing equipment and safety equipment.

Experienced Staff, Small Classes, Mix of Young Men and Women
Two of the influences that make the program so special are the Department Head, Seth Cook and Instructor Melissa Duffy. Both bring expertise and enthusiasm to working with students and trees. Duffy leads the freshman and junior classes; Cook teaches the sophomores and seniors; and each year builds on the previous year. Classes are small, averaging about 16 students, allowing for a personal relationship between students and faculty. “We know our students and they are extremely well-behaved,” says Cook.

Cook has worked in the industry all his adult life and has many industry certifications, in addition to an education degree. He has been at BCAHS for ten years, continues to work in the field and has many contacts that provide mentoring, internships, and seminars to students in the program. Cook adds, “We have a fantastic advisory board.”

Duffy was a student in the BCAHS program, graduated from Stockbridge College and was employed in the field, eventually coming back to teach at her alma mater. Her coworkers had been coming to her for help learning the ropes, so it was natural for her to bring her teaching talents back to Bristol Aggie, where she has now taught for 20 years.

Things have changed - when she was a student, Duffy was the only female in the class. Many more girls now pursue the major, and one class at BCAHS has a 70/30 ratio. Cook says, “It’s all about working with each one’s strengths and working together.” Morgan Parent, a senior in the program, is one of three young women from the school who will attend a women’s leadership weekend for arboriculture, with an opportunity to win a full scholarship to Paul Smith’s College, a prestigious school for arboriculture studies.

Safety, Professionalism, Preparedness
Knowing the correct safety practices and OSHA industry standards is a vital part of the program. Cook says, “When you’re up in a tree swinging on a half inch line, it’s important you have mastered your skills as well as the safety precautions and equipment.” The program facilitates students’ attaining as many industry skills certifications and pre-certifications as possible.

“The arboriculture industry has changed, it’s much more professional these days.”
There is a huge demand for workers in the industry, and BCAHS students increase the safety and professionalism wherever they go. They know the right equipment, skills and the safety practices that others may not know. Cook adds, “They don’t have any bad habits to unlearn.”

“When our students leave and go into college programs, they tend to be resources for their peers because they are so well prepared and have that in-depth knowledge,” says Cook. Duffy adds,” Not another school does what we do.”

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