PALMER — Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical School District was awarded a $10,000 grant to assist with reducing chronic absenteeism, Superintendent Eric Duda announced at the School Committee’s Jan. 10 meeting.

The funds are part of a “potential pilot program” for which the district applied, Duda stated. They will be used to support the district’s current efforts to reduce absenteeism.

“We put that [chronic absenteeism] on our school improvement plan as a super important priority for us after last year’s chronic absenteeism rates were quite high here. We’re working towards bringing that down. We’ve had levels of success so far,” Duda said.

Additionally, the district is continuing to utilize its Career Technical Initiative grant, which was awarded in 2022, Duda stated. Like 2023, the 2024 funds will support electrical and plumbing training for 24 adults, totaling in 48 adults benefiting from the programs.

“All the tools, supplies, training was all done through grant funding,” Duda explained.

The district is also offering new adult education courses in February that center around professional skills, such as using Excel. There will be five levels of courses, Duda said. Following the release of these courses, the district has plans to offer additional courses as well in the coming months.

Department updates

During the meeting, leadership from Pathfinder Tech’s 16 programs each presented an update on the program’s highlights, budget changes and future capital projects.

Across the programs, nine have increased enrollment in 2024 and more than half will increase spending for the fiscal year 2025, according to the presentations.

The presentations also listed more than $360,000 in proposed capital projects for seven programs. These were horticulture, health assisting, electronics technology, CAD (pre-engineering), business technology, automotive technology and advanced manufacturing.

Another component that was highlighted during the presentations was the participation rates of male versus female students in each program. Of the 16 programs, 11 were male-dominated and the four programs with higher rates of female participation — cosmetology, culinary arts, health assisting and hospitality management — were moderately to heavily dominated by female participants.

Despite this, Duda emphasized the work that the district has done to encourage female participation in their programs, stating that the district is “really proud of it.”

“Automotive is one of the best examples in this room,” he said. “They nearly had a 50-50 split this year with females. It’s not a fluke. Paul Bouthiller, the department head, said to me five years ago, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to get more females interested in the industry.’ And every year it’s ticked up … that story carries on to other programs.”

Scout the puppy

The district’s new 11-week-old puppy was also introduced to the public during the meeting. Named Scout, the puppy was purchased without use of taxpayer funds to be a “comfort animal” for students and staff in the district, Duda said. He explained that Scout was part of the district’s work to improve mental health support for students.

“It’s pretty powerful what we are doing with this. Being a nine-town regional school district, we are the first of the nine towns to have a comfort animal like this,” he said, stating that the puppy was purchased through a healthcare grant.

He credited Director of Student Services Marina Latourelle for caring for the puppy outside of school hours and bringing Scout in each day for the district.

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