Student finds academic success and career aspirations through Pathways Academy and CTE program

Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES student Hadyn Miller received the first Herkimer BOCES Student Spotlight Award during the Herkimer BOCES 2024 Annual Meeting on Thursday, April 11, at the William E. Busacker Complex in Herkimer.

The idea behind the new Student Spotlight Award is to recognize a student who has reached achievements through the resources provided by BOCES due to schools in the region supporting BOCES to make the BOCES programs available, Shepardson said.

Miller, a senior from Poland Central School District, was recognized for finding success through both the Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy and the Herkimer BOCES Advanced Manufacturing program.

“He is truly a symbol of what programs here offer kids,” Shepardson said.

The Herkimer BOCES Annual Meeting is a time for board members and superintendents from Herkimer BOCES and the 10 component school districts to gather to hear updates about the BOCES budget, programs and BOCES board candidates.

Each year, one district is considered the host of the Annual Meeting at BOCES, and this year’s host was West Canada Valley Central School District. The West Canada Valley Jazz Ensemble performed during the Annual Meeting, and Herkimer BOCES Culinary and Hospitality students provided desserts and refreshments for guests. Herkimer BOCES Board President Holly Pullis spoke to guests during the meeting, and West Canada Valley Board of Education President Jessica Bartlett served as the chairperson for the meeting.

Pullis congratulated Miller and said Herkimer BOCES is proud to have him as a student.

“You certainly embody what Herkimer BOCES is all about,” Pullis said.

Shepardson said that even though there is business to take care of during the Annual Meeting, the most important parts include recognizing the Student Spotlight Award winner, the West Canada Valley Jazz Ensemble, the Culinary and Hospitality students and other BOCES programs.

“Really, why we’re all here today is about the kids,” Shepardson said.

The new Student Spotlight Award will be given out each year during the Herkimer BOCES Annual Meeting. The award winner is also featured each year in the Herkimer BOCES Annual Meeting Report publication.

Herkimer BOCES Advanced Manufacturing instructor Peter Stone and former Pathways Academy teacher Corrie Clements, who now is an instructional coach at BOCES, also spoke about Miller during the Annual Meeting.

Clements spoke about Miller’s resilience, hard work and dedication and how he never gave up. Clements encouraged Miller to really take in what receiving this award felt like and think about that whenever something goes wrong in his life.

“Remember this moment and this room full of people who believe in you – as do I – and believe in yourself,” Clements said.

A new start

As a sophomore at Poland, Miller was struggling with a traditional school environment and didn’t have any career plans yet. He made a decision to entrust the last two years of his high school education completely to Herkimer BOCES.

To start his junior year, Miller joined both the Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy and the Herkimer BOCES Advanced Manufacturing program. Now, as a senior, he has turned around his academics, enjoys school and has plans to work locally in the advanced manufacturing industry right out of high school.

Miller now feels “a lot” differently about school and his career path than he did before discovering the BOCES programs.

“I didn’t even know that this existed,” Miller said. “In 10th grade, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do, and now, I figured it out. I hope to do this for the rest of my life.”

Miller attends the Advanced Manufacturing program in the mornings at the Herkimer BOCES William E. Busacker Complex in East Herkimer. He attends the Pathways Academy in the afternoons at the Herkimer BOCES Remington Educational Complex in Ilion.

That Miller has been able to improve his school experience through the two BOCES programs and discover a career he wants to pursue serves as an example of how important it is to find the right subject or program to spark motivation in a student, Herkimer BOCES Director of School Services and Outreach Zane Mahar said.

“I think it speaks volumes – in a general sense – if you find something that a student’s interested in, and it holds their interest and they can see there’s meaningful work and they can make a living doing this, it gives them a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mahar said. “They can see, ‘Oh, I get why I’m learning this. This isn’t just something to get a high school diploma. This is something that will set me up for life.’”

A different pathway

The Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy is an alternative education school focused on students who have had a difficult time in a traditional school structure or have to catch up on credits but have the ability to get a high school diploma. Pathways Academy classes are project-driven and infuse career and technical education.

When attending Pathways Academy was suggested to Miller in response to how things were going for him at school academically and otherwise, Miller didn’t initially want to attend the Pathways Academy. He was told he could also join a Herkimer BOCES Career and Technical Education program if he went to Pathways, so he decided to give it a chance.

He’s glad he did.

“I was struggling with my school grades, so I figured going to Pathways and CTE would make it easier on myself – which it has,” Miller said. “My grades have really improved a lot.”

Miller also recognized he did need to make a change away from a traditional school environment.

“It just wasn’t for me anymore,” he said.

Pathways Academy allowed him to make that change. At first, it was hard to be away from his home school, but that is no longer the case, and he prefers being at Pathways Academy.

“Luckily for me, there’s a lot of great teachers there,” Miller said. “I love that place now.”

A fateful placement

The Advanced Manufacturing program is one of 14 two-year CTE programs for juniors and seniors at Herkimer BOCES. The program focuses on setting up and operating various manual machines and building machine parts using modern manufacturing processes.

Stone’s Advanced Manufacturing classroom is designed as a factory setting – ranging from creating a drawing to ordering parts, manufacturing, inspection, assembling and marketing. Students gain knowledge in understanding process engineering, basic tool design and quality control. Students learn skills in the areas of entry-level machinist, inspection and working in a manufacturing environment.

Miller initially requested to join one of two other CTE programs as his first choices: Welding and Metal Fabrication or Automotive Technology. He got placed into Advanced Manufacturing because the other programs were full, and he was disappointed at first because he wanted to be with some of his friends from Poland who got into Welding.

Now, he’s glad for that fateful result because Advanced Manufacturing has

allowed him to find both a career path and new friends.

“I actually think it was a good thing I got put in here because I think I’ve had a better time in here than I would in any class,” Miller said. “I’m glad I got put in here because I like the guys in here.”

It didn’t take Miller long to learn that he enjoyed Advanced Manufacturing and having Stone as his teacher.

“When I first came into the class and started getting into it, I figured this is something I probably want to do for the rest of my life,” Miller said. “I love this program. It’s been the best time of my junior and senior year. This class has been a lot of fun.”

Stone said Miller has been a strong student.

“He’s interested,” Stone said. “He likes the hands-on stuff.”

Mahar said it has beena pleasure to have Miller in the building as a CTE student.

“He’s a very respectful young man,” Mahar said. “He’s pretty driven for success here in this program.”

A good foundation

Stone graduated from the Herkimer BOCES Machine Shop program in 1979, operated his own shop and worked in the machining and advanced manufacturing industry his whole life. He knows the value BOCES provides to students who might have otherwise become disenfranchised in their education.

“All students aren’t good at English and normal curriculum,” Stone said. “There are a lot of talented kids that don’t just fit the mold, and that’s what trade schools do. There’s lots of guys in the trades making more money than lawyers.”

Local companies have started asking Stone for recommendations for hires, and he only recommends students who can do the job, he said.

One time, a company was trying to get Stone to work for them, and Stone said he was happy at BOCES but that if he still had his own shop, he would hire a specific student. Stone called the student over, and the company hired the student without hesitation.

“They’ll have a good foundation when they come out of here, and then they have to grow from there,” Stone said. “Most of these manufacturers will train.”

A young worker right out of high school won’t be put right in with expensive materials without a lot of experience, but hiring someone with a BOCES education gives the employer an employee with enough knowledge and skills to build upon.

“The student has to prove himself, and then he gets moved forward; he gets promoted in the workforce,” Stone said. “What we’re doing here, we’re giving you a strong foundation to go out there and basically build your house – build your reputation, build your house – and be successful.”

Stone said that path will work for Miller, as it did for himself.

“That’s what BOCES does,” Stone said. “BOCES did that for me. They gave me a good foundation, and I went out and got into an apprenticeship and built my own place. That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I want to pay it back because BOCES did me well. Thousands of kids have gone through the BOCES over the years and done really well.”

A career connection

Representatives from Riverhawk Co. in New Hartford took a tour on Oct. 24, 2023, of several Herkimer BOCES CTE programs and discussed with students the need for qualified employees to fill machinist positions in the area. Riverhawk Co. designs and manufactures innovations for hydraulic tooling and instrumentation solutions.

Stone recommended Riverhawk Co. to Miller, and Miller became very interested in working there.

“He was just taken with that, that he could put his machining skills to use, and there’s a good-paying job, and they’re looking for workers,” Mahar said. “Since then, he’s actually gone above and beyond in the program – having Pete teach him some of the extras.”

Miller is one of the students that Stone is happy to recommend to Riverhawk or other companies as well.

“I have a high degree of confidence in him,” Stone said. “He wants to do a good job.”

Miller said Riverhawk Co. would be a good fit for him because the company trains workers as they go. He hopes to work there right after graduation from high school.

“And they pay good, so that would be nice,” Miller said.

It’s great that Stone has a lot of connections in the advanced manufacturing industry and knowledge to help students prepare for the work, Miller said, so he is putting in extra effort to learn everything he can.

“I find a lot of the stuff in here really interesting, and I want to get to know how to do all the stuff in here,” Miller said. “Like the lathe over there, I want to figure out how to run that completely before I graduate because it will help me with getting a good job.”

Miller’s goals include working at Riverhawk Co. and then eventually working for Collins Aerospace in Rome to continue in advanced manufacturing.

“That’s kind of my dream job,” Miller said. “They pay a lot of money. That’s probably the No. 1 thing.”

A moment of reflection

Sitting recently at a desk in the Advanced Manufacturing classroom as students around him operated machines and Stone provided guidance to students, Miller reflected on the path that took him to Herkimer BOCES and set him up for a successful career.

“It’s really good,” Miller said. “I come here, do my work, go to Pathways, kind of the same thing – chill out. I actually have a good time going to school now.”

Miller said he would recommend to other students – and has done so during Sophomore Visitation Day – that they should join a CTE program, particularly Advanced Manufacturing. Miller said CTE programs allow you to learn a lot of skills and almost always get a job after high school if you choose to.

“I would strongly suggest that they come here,” Miller said. “It would be a great use of half their day.”

Miller is grateful to Herkimer BOCES and his teachers for supporting him through both the Pathways Academy and the Advanced Manufacturing program, improving his education and preparing him for a lifetime of work.

“It’s really helped me. It’s been a huge part of my learning path,” Miller said. “Mr. Stone has always helped me with whatever I really need. He’s been a great teacher. The same at Pathways – I’ve had amazing teachers.”