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How a high school in North Conway is training students for jobs in NH’s growing outdoor tourism industry

Casey McDermott
Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center in North Conway is helping students get certified in bike tech, wilderness first aid and other skills needed for the field.

A high school in New Hampshire's White Mountains is offering outdoor recreation classes in an effort to help students land jobs in the region's growing outdoor tourism industry.

The Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center, located at Kennett High School in North Conway, has started offering wilderness first aid classes, certifications in swift water rescue, and a course in how to fix mountain and road bikes.

 Science and bike tech teacher Chris Darling at Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center
Courtesy of Chris Darling
Science and bike tech teacher Chris Darling at Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center.

Virginia Schrader, the director of the career and technical education center, plans to expand it into a larger program this fall.

“So many students are involved in outdoor recreation but do not realize — and that’s the point of all this — that they can make a career out of whatever sport they love,” she says.

One of the goals, Schrader says, is to give students industry-recognized certifications in a range of recreation activities. Tourists flock to the local mountains for skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking, as well as hiking, snowmobiling and river trips. Many of the ski resorts, Schrader says, want to stop relying on a “hodgepodge” of seasonal staff and hire year-round employees who can fix mountain bikes in the summer and make snow in the winter.

Chris Darling, who teaches science and coaches the mountain biking team at Kennett High School, is teaching the program’s inaugural bike class this semester. Darling got training to teach the course from Project Bike Tech, an organization based in California.

He says the course has attracted a wide variety of students, from “avid cyclists” to students interested in mechanical engineering, to others curious about it as a career path.

The school is working with the University of New Hampshire and researchers at CAST, a learning sciences organization based in Massachusetts, to assess how the Outdoor Recreation program can strengthen student’s STEM skills.

Schrader says she's hopeful the initiative will identify potential STEM impacts for students who may be drawn first to their program out of their love for outdoor sports.

“They don’t realize it, but they’re getting a lot of math, science and engineering skills while they’re learning how to build bikes and do bike repair.”

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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