Classrooms: Hands-on ‘School to Work’ learning program launches at Granby High

  • Nick Casy,17, works at Fine Woodworks in South Hadley as part of a school internship program. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nick Casey, 17, works at Fine Woodworks in South Hadley as part of a school internship program. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nick Casy,17, works at Fine Woodworks in South Hadley as part of a school internship program. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nick Casey, 17, works at Fine Woodworks in South Hadley with his father, Philip Casey, as part of a school internship program. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nick Casy,17, works at Fine Woodworks in South Hadley as part of a school internship program. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/30/2018 11:12:12 PM

GRANBY — For the first time this year, Granby High School began offering some students the option to leave school early to work after school jobs for credit.

“I love this program,” said Blake Griswold, a 17-year-old junior. “It makes me do good in school because you have something to strive for at the end of the day. I don’t goof off.”

Griswold is a certified diesel mechanic who works at ABM Transmission in Chicopee. He works for one class period before school, then returns again in the afternoon.

“I’m a hands-on learner,” Griswold said. “I really like being outdoors and working with my hands, which is why I chose to be a mechanic.”

After working at a local auto shop in Granby since he was 13, Griswold moved on to a larger shop where he can work on larger projects. Currently, he is working on an injection pump for a diesel truck under the guidance of shop owner Mark MacDonald, whom he has known “forever.”

“I do just about anything he asks me to do,” Griswold said. “I’m still learning a lot.”

In school, Griswold likes science class because he has always been fascinated with the outdoors. After graduating high school, he says he will likely pursue more certifications in his trade. Ultimately, he wants to be a welder.

For Griswold, technical schools like Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School were too competitive to get into right out of middle school, so the fledgling work-based learning program at his high school offered him an alternative path.

“I’m definitely not an A-plus student and I definitely got called down to the office now and again,” Griswold said. “But now when I’m here I get what I need to get done and I get out of there.”

Work Based Learning Plan

The state-designed Work Based Learning Plan gives students five credits per semester to spend part of their time outside school learning a trade. The Granby School Committee approved the program last year, and the school began offering it to select students in September.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education first developed the Work Based Learning Plan through a collaboration of employers, educators and workforce development professionals in 1998. Since then, over 100,000 programs have been submitted and approved to the state.

“It gives the kids the opportunity to do something outside of school,” said Alison Jordan-Gagner, assistant principal and athletic director for Granby High. “I call them our tech kids, (because) they are very hands-on. This just gives them a great opportunity to show their skills as opposed to being in class here.”

Senior Nick Casey, 17, works for his father Phil Casey at Fine Woodworks, a custom commercial woodworking and finishing company in South Hadley.

“I think it helps a lot to get you ready for the real world,” Casey said. “I’m learning a lot more working for my father than in, say, Algebra II.”

After he graduates, he wants to take night courses at Springfield Technical Community College on deciphering blueprints and business management — all with the end goal of taking over the family business.

“I’ve always liked carpentry,” Casey said. “As a kid I obviously looked up to my dad so I’d build stuff on my own. He used to give me all his old tools and stuff. It was fun.”

Juniors and seniors with schedules that allow them to leave early or come in late are eligible for the “School to Work” program, as its called at the high school. They spend one class period or more of the school day at their respective workplaces.

Jordan-Gagner says a trend among students in the work-based learning course is a restlessness to learn in a different way.

“We don’t want to hold them here,” Jordan-Gagner said. “If they’re showing that they’re ready, that’s the green light for us to let them go and learn the way they need to.”

Privilege for those ready

Leaving school early to participate in the program is a privilege for students who have to keep up their grades and behave in class. At the end of the semester, students are evaluated on their performance, attendance, problem-solving and several other criteria for their off-site job.

“This is really our pilot year, and the evaluations are going to be a true testament and a reflection on their performance,” Jordan-Gagner said. “People being honest and doing what they’re supposed to be doing is important.”

The program has expanded — from two to six students — as the school year has advanced, Jordan-Gagner said.

“There’s always areas for improvement,” Jordan-Gagner said. “I would love to see more kids do it.”

Griswold and Casey agree the program makes them feel more confident and prepared for life outside of school. However, they also share a dissatisfaction with the standard school curriculum.

“In today’s society any school doesn’t prepare you for the outside word,” Griswold said. “I see people on the side of the road that still can’t change a flat tire. You should at least learn the basics of life.”

He spent last summer earning certifications to be a diesel mechanic. Now, Griswold is certified to work on anything from pickup trucks to excavators.

Casey and Griswold not only learn the tools of their trades, but also the business behind them. Griswold had to learn how to bill for auto parts, balance budgets and order parts, and Casey took a course on personal finance to supplement his education.

“Honestly I’ve learned more in those 35 to 45 minutes that I’m at work on school time than I learn at school,” Griswold said.

Outside school hours, students can work the same jobs for hourly pay. Griswold says he works most days until 7 p.m.

“I’m not a kid for school,” Griswold said. “I need math to fabricate stuff and English to write it out, but I don’t learn anything at school anymore.”

Griswold’s father is a mechanic, as are his brother and most of his friends. Like Casey, he grew up around the trade and had a fascination with it all his life. He started working in an auto shop in Granby when he was 13 year old, and moved onto a more advanced shop in Chicopee for the work-based learning program.

“I really like it. If I didn’t have it I wouldn’t know what I would do,” Blake said. “I’d legit be going crazy in school.”

Sarah Robertson can be reached at

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