Stephen Casa has been the Workplace Learning Coordinator at Ulster BOCES since early 2018. Ulster BOCES operates as an extension of local school districts that provides shared programs and educational services, serving eight public schools throughout the county. Casa plays an interesting role acting as the lead connector between BOCES programs and the business community. At the moment he’s playing an important part in building relationships for the Hudson Valley Pathways Academy and the Career and Technical Education Center specifically.
Casa attended Saint John’s University to study Management and Finance, and later got his master’s degree in Instructional Technology from the New York Institute of Technology. After college he started his career in education as a math teacher to middle school students in Brooklyn. His goal at the time was to eventually teach business courses at the high school level. His career took a turn when he decided to take a leap of faith and walk into the high school a week before school was starting to inquire about any openings. He went into the building a middle school math teacher and walked out with a full-time position at James Madison High School in a program called the Academy of Finance.
Casa’s role in the Academy of Finance set his career on the path that it is today. The Academy of Finance is a member of the National Academy Foundation (NAF). It’s a progressive model that combines schoolwork with experiential learning. The academy’s connections with the business community helped students secure paid summer internships and gain real-world experience. Casa told us that this was his first exposure to “education as it should be.”
As the Workplace Learning Coordinator for Ulster BOCES, Casa also works closely with the Council of Industry. The Council of Industry is the lead Industry Partner for the Hudson Valley Pathways Academy, and Casa works directly with many members to help setup workplace learning challenges. These challenges are immersive projects given to the students at Hudson Valley Pathways Academy by local businesses. Casa also helps coordinate internship opportunities for students through his connections with the business community. “The Council of Industry has been incredibly helpful in identifying businesses that see the benefit of engaging with Ulster BOCES and the students” said Casa.
Casa is passionate about what he does and told us that making connections and watching those connections make a real impact are the best parts of his job. He believes giving students real-world experience as early as possible plays a big role in preparing them for their future. Casa told us that if he could offer some advice to young adults it would be to, “take any opportunity you can get to work with the business community, whether it’s a job shadow or an internship. Those learning experiences are what open your eyes to what’s possible.”
Hudson Valley Pathways Academy has seen tremendous success since its beginning just a few years ago. The P-TECH school offers a six-year pathway of study, which results in students earning an associate’s degree and puts them first in line for available positions with industry partners. The Career and Technical Education Center also prepares students for the future by offering dozens of high-tech training programs that lead to in-demand jobs. With both programs experiencing such success, we asked Casa what his biggest challenges have been along the way. He told us that getting education providers and business partners to fully recognize the benefits of working together has been a struggle, but when you finally get them at the same table and allow them to see the win-wins it can make significant change.
The future of education is bright, and the programs offered at Ulster BOCES are a shining example of what’s to come. Experiential learning will likely play a much larger role in education in the future. Today many students don’t get real-world experience until after high school or during college. However, we’re already beginning to see the shift with Ulster BOCES. Casa emphasized the importance of teaching young adults how to be adaptable and believes that the work they’re doing at Ulster BOCES is setting these students up with the skills they need to be successful.
If you’d like to learn more about Ulster BOCES or find out how you can be involved visit www.ultserboces.org.