Minuteman High School has 16 towns that are members of its regional school district, but the town that sends the second most students to the vocational technical school is a non-member: Watertown.
While Watertown High School remains the school of choice for those from town going to public school, about a 10th go to Lexington to attend Minuteman.
The school currently has about 70 students from Watertown this year. The students choose to attend the public school for a variety of reasons, but the primary reason is to take advantage of the 15 career programs.
Traditional and Modern Career Paths
These include the ones many are familiar with, such as plumbing, electrical, culinary and cosmetology. Other programs have been added to meet current needs and interests.
Senior Bryan Recinos Guerra of Watertown is in one of the more popular programs, environmental technology. He lead a tour of his shop, which was filled with aquariums filled with fish, turtles and other creatures.
“We test for things like pH, salinity and ammonia – ammonia is deadly to the gills of a fish,” Recinos Guerra said.
The school also has robotics, biotechnology and computer programming & web development.
Elias Scott came to the school after a year at WHS. Now he is a junior working on computer programing as his major at Minuteman. He likes how he can work on independent projects if he completes his regular assignments.
“My friend Alex makes computer games,” Scott said. “I am working on some games, and I like web development and cyber security. I want to go into that.”
The hands-on experience is one of the most popular things with students. Students in the culinary arts program, for instance, prepare meals and items for the bakery shop. They also work as waitstaff in the restaurant.
Minuteman also runs a salon, a flower shop, a child development center and an auto repair shop.
Before choosing which shop they want, students get a taste of each one, and then get two to concentrate on before selecting one.
They get thrown into the action right away, said sophomore Thomas Merida, who is from Watertown and chose the bakery program in culinary arts.
“During exploratory they said, peel a carrot,” Merida said. “I did and they they cut it up and put it out on a salad.”
The students spend one week on academics and then the next in their shops, said senior Sheila Abdallah from Watertown, who is in the culinary arts program.
“We have everything a normal high school has, but more,” Abdallah said. “We have academic education and education in the field we want to do.”
Next year, she will attend Johnson & Wales to study baking and pastry arts.
Minuteman Superintendent Edward Bouquillon said that college is now typical for students from the school.
“A misconception is that vocational students don’t go to college,” Bouquillon said. “It couldn’t be further from the truth.”
About two-thirds of the grades go on to higher education, with about two-thirds of those students going to four year colleges and universities.
Students also leave Minuteman with licenses and certificates that will give them a leg up on the competition, and/or more pay said Assistant Principal George Clement.
Admissions have closed for next fall, said Clement. Almost all students start as freshman, but some sophomore come in if there is space.
Right now, Watertown students can attend the Minuteman as out-of-district students, Bouquillon said. Communities in the district get first shot, but if the spots are not filled, out of district students can fill them.
There is no waiting list for Minuteman, but that will likely change in the next few years, Bouquillon said.
The school has been accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority program, which will provide $44 million toward building a new school. Now school officials seek approval from all its members.
Other places that have built new vocational schools have found the school has become much more popular.
“There have only been three new vocational schools built in the state – Worcester Tech, Putnam Vocational High School and Essex Agricultural North Shore,” Bouquillon said. “Within a year of opening all had waiting lists of hundreds of kids, where they had no waiting list before.”
Watertown school and town officials are deciding whether to join the Minuteman Regional School District. Other nearby towns already are part of it, including Belmont, Arlington and Lexington. Several recently withdrew, reducing the number in the new district to 10 communities.
Cost will be an issue. Bouquillon said initially it won’t be a bargain for Watertown.
“In the short term, the next year or two, I don’t think there is any advantage financially or for access,” Bouquillon said. “As the transition to a smaller size school we are probably going to have some room for the first few years in the new school for Watertown students.”
If Watertown joins the Minuteman District it will have to contribute toward the building of the new school, but Bouquillon said for the first 4 years the town would not have to pay as much. The debt will be paid off over 30 years.
The regular tuition charged to towns is based on the number of students attending Minuteman and the per pupil funding the town is expected to pay, as determined by the state.