Gateway secures $375K to boost its welding program

  • Joel Sakaske, a 2021 graduate of the welding program at Gateway Regional High School, in the program when he was in school. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2022 2:56:26 PM

HUNTINGTON — Backed by a nearly $375,000 state grant to upgrade its welding program, officials at Gateway Regional School District hope the improvements will lead to an enrollment boost for the program.

“We’re hoping that it will attract more students from different districts,” said Paul Atkinson, who has headed the program since 2011.

Gateway Regional Superintendent Kristen Smidy said the funds, awarded through the Massachusetts Skills Capital Grant program, will be used to install industry model welding booths, a robotic welding arm and an augmented reality welding system. Atkinson also said that the ventilation system will be improved and additional personal protective equipment will be purchased.

“They are going to be so well prepared to enter the force,” Smidy said of those in the program.

The district’s Chapter 74 welding program is a separate vocational program within the high school with its own requirements for completion. Those in the program also earn their high school diploma, and can take college prep courses as well.

Atkinson said that while the program has allowed students to work in the field after graduation, it’s also helped people to succeed in other areas as well. “It helps them build confidence,” he said.

Ben Saunders, 19, a graduate of the program, said that he was always a handy kid.

“Welding gave me the place and time to really refine my skills,” he said.

Saunders works at Manufacturing Technology Group in Westfield in a sheet metal shop. “I love it,” Saunders said. “Everyone gets along good.”

What he learned in the school’s welding program helped him to get the job, he said.

“They saw potential and were able to work with it,” he said.

Another recent program graduate who is working in the industry is Joel Sakaske.

“It got me ready to go into the workforce right out of high school,” said Sakaske, who began working at Lenco Armored Vehicles in Pittsfield right after graduation last year.

Both Atkinson and Smidy said the district is looking to start night classes in welding for adult learners in the near future.

Atkinson said he likes giving students support to grow, and that he keeps in touch with students and offers support after graduation as well.

He also praised the Amanti family, owners of Advanced Manufacturing, for having donated equipment to the program, as well as the company Airgas for donating equipment, and Sullivan Metals for donating materials.

Students are given the opportunity to use the skills they learn at the Huntington Highway Department, Atkinson said, through such tasks as fixing equipment; and at the Chester Railway Station & Museum, by making directional signs and grills and performing other tasks.

“It’s really a good program right now,” Atkinson siad, but the upgrades will set it apart.

Smidy said the goal is to have the upgrades in place for the program either at the start of the new school year or a few weeks into it.

In addition to welding, Gateway also has an early childhood education Chapter 74 program.

“That has grown in popularity quite a bit,” Smidy said.

The school will be doing an assessment of the early childhood program this year to determine what makes sense for its possible growth, she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.
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