Students of Barlow’s class at work at the Veterans Park. submitted photo

MEXICO — An alternative option for those who learn differently, the Region 9 School of Applied Technology has been an ideal fit for many students over the past few decades.

Pete Barlow, an employee of the school, teaches a metal trades program that is one of those choices. He’s been teaching at Region 9 for 28 years.

“We create a good foundation for a lot of the students here. A lot of them may not have fit in at their academic high school,” Barlow said.

For his students, a mix of hands-on and in-classroom work proves to be more effective.

His metal trades class has done outside work for local fire departments, the Mahoosuc Land Trust and the Bethel Veterans Park.

Students of Barlow’s class recently helped install a bridge in the McCoy-Chapman Forest. At the Veterans Park, they put up fences on each side and plan to do the gates next year.

Barlow’s metal trades program, through grants and donations, has received some “state of the art” equipment, which has allowed them to boast one of the top programs in the state at the high school level.

Barlow emphasized that there’s a lot more than just on-the-job training and manual labor in his class.

“You need to limit the labor-intensive part – it’s good, but you can’t let it take over,” he said. “We’re trying to create that student that can do machining, welding and maintenance repair, but also one who can develop good computer and behavior skills. We want them to be employable.”

For some students, making the transition from a hands-on environment to sitting behind a desk is difficult.

“I feel like my time is most valuable when I’m here. I feel more productive,” senior Cody Hemingway said.

Another student echoed Hemingway, saying he feels he has gained a lot more by attending Region 9 than he would in a regular classroom.

Barlow said he notices a personality shift in some of his students when they leave the shop.

“They’re not in their comfort zone behind a desk. When they are in the shop, they are talking, they are responsive and they are confident,” he said.

Once his students are near taking the next step, Barlow tries to help guide them, but not in a particular direction.

“I like to see my students have a couple of options,” he said.

Many of the graduates go on to pursue higher levels of education, while others try and get a jump start into the workforce. On some occasions students have also enlisted in the military after graduating.

The school has an agreement with Central Maine Community College and Southern Maine Community College, where students can earn college credits at Region 9. They also do college visits where students can meet and speak with other students already in their program, and also meet the professors teaching the courses.

Seventeen kids, made up of juniors and seniors, are taking his metal trades program.

Barlow grew up in Hanover and attended Rumford schools. He attended Region 9 (known then as Northern Oxford Vocational Area). At NOVA Barlow was part of the metal trades program and went on to study at Central Maine Vocational Institute.

Region 9 serves Telstar, Dirigo and Mountain Valley schools, and will also take kids who have been home schooled.

Region 9 tries to have an open house every year in the fall. Barlow encouraged anyone with interest in the program to stop by at the next one.

“A lot of people do not see what we have in here,” he said.


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