“I think sometimes there’s an assumption that students who go to the tech center, that they’re not gonna go to college.” That assumption, Matt Neckers says, is a dated one. “What I tell people is my students are already in college.”
Neckers teaches creative media art and design at Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park. His class is an all-day, year-long (sometimes two) immersive experience that gets students ready for college or the workforce — though many of them will complete his class with 12 college credits already under their belt. That’s because they’re also enrolled in Community College of Vermont’s Fast Forward program, which allows students to earn both technical center and college credit simultaneously, and tuition free.
Because of the way the class is structured, “we have so much more contact time with students than you’d have in a traditional college setting,” Neckers said. “We’re talking about five to six hours a day minimum, five days a week, for two three-credit classes a semester. I think we have an ability to go a lot deeper than the average program.”
Neckers describes creative media as “basically an all-day art class.”
Curriculum includes graphic design, photography, film, animation, drawing, painting — you name it. “The great thing about career and technical education is that we have industry-standard equipment. We have the giant large-format printer. Everybody has a 27-inch iMac. Everybody’s got a camera,” said Neckers.
Another great resource is the relationship Neckers has cultivated with the Vermont Studio Center, the international artist residency program 10 minutes down the road in Johnson. Through this relationship, students have an opportunity to work with visiting artists from around the world.
Recently, they’ve worked on a stop-motion animation project with a professional animator from Los Angeles. One year, a collaboration with the photographer Marilyn Montufar culminated in a show at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City that included student student work.
“My experience is that education can be transformational,” said Neckers. “If you have the right kind of setup, that can be really dynamic and life-changing for students.”
Indeed, Neckers’s students are going on to do all kinds of amazing things. Some have pursued art and design at schools like Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Vermont, Maine College of Art, and Savannah College of Art & Design. His students have won the Vermont Presidential Scholars award, Skills USA championships, and multiple awards in the Vermont Congressional Art Competition. One is writing children’s books, another is teaching art at Craftsbury Academy. One graduated from Mass Art with an animation degree and is currently painting custom bike frames in Boston.
Elias Gillen, who recently won the Vermont Presidential Scholars award, was homeschooled until 10th grade, when he started the pre-tech program at the technical school. Now he’s in his second year of Neckers’s program, and as Neckers says, “he’s essentially getting paid to go to high school.”
Students can opt to spend their second year in an internship, so Gillen is working full-time as a videographer for Beacon Hill Construction. “It’s a really good opportunity,” Gillen says. He’s also in the midst of launching his own small video production company, and “to say that I’m already working, and I’m in school, it’s really helpful.”
Though he’ll push pause on school to focus on his business next year, Gillen says the credits he earned through Fast Forward are incredibly valuable. “For me it’s particularly good because I can say that I do have college credits. Most kids don’t get that amount of college credit from high school. Twelve is kind of insane from a high school class. Insane in a good way.”