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Game Changer

Dave Curry is helping to continue the legacy of a Hershey, Pa., icon while changing the face of career and technical education at home and nationwide.
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Photo provided by Dave Vagnoni. Used with permission.

Dave Curry didn’t start his career with a desire to be an educator. In fact, he wanted to be in the military until an injury ended that dream. He also considered law enforcement, so he began working in probation and parole before moving to social work. All those career paths had something in common: service to others. Each of those paths also led Curry to the role he’s championed for the last 15 years: serving students as a model instructor, mentor and coach.

Curry is the director of career and technical education at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pa., but he began his role at the school as a teacher. In fact, the Law, Public Safety and Security program he created at Milton Hershey — which he initially taught — was recognized as the Advance CTE National Program of Excellence in 2017. Curry is also a multi-sport coach at the school. 

“Like a lot of people, I wasn’t somebody who grew up saying, ‘I want to be an educator,’” Curry admits. “I was obviously highly impacted by educators and coaches in my life, but as I worked through the early stages of [my] career, I decided that I could make more of an impact with kids than I could with adults.”

Making an impact is what the Milton Hershey School was created to do. It was founded in 1909 by chocolate magnate Milton Hershey to be a home for orphaned boys. Today, it serves nearly 2,000 students from low-income environments. “Our students and families, they don’t pay a dime,” Curry explains. “We are completely funded off of the trust that Milton Hershey established before he died. He left his entire fortune so that the school would run forever. Any way that you can be a part of the mission here is a blessing. And so being able to really get into this place early in my teaching career has made a huge difference.”

Changing the game

Curry has made a huge difference, too. He’s helped build the school’s career and technical education (CTE) program into a national model for success. That program consists of 12 career pathways that blend tailor-made instruction and hands-on learning. Students in grades nine through 12 at the school select one of the 12 career pathways and receive hands-on training in the program to prepare to enter a skilled career. Though the program is geared toward high school students, career exposure begins for students in grade school. In addition to providing real-world work experience, the program can also help pay for college.

“If our students meet all of their behavioral and academic checkmarks from grades nine through 12, they can earn up to about $95,000 toward college, which is a game changer for kids who are from poverty,” Curry says.

But for those who want to go directly to a skilled career, Curry worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to establish the first state-registered pre-apprenticeship program. The program works directly with industry to train the future workforce.

“We’ve established this apprenticeship program where we find companies to affiliate with,” Curry explains. “We find related technical instruction providers to train the kids. Our programming at the high school is preparing kids so that they can get their foot in the door into those industries before they even leave us,” he says.

Students at Milton Hershey School are also active in SkillsUSA. “We’re huge supporters of SkillsUSA,” Curry says. “It’s become a part of our career tech program.”

In the 2013-14 school year, students nominated Curry as the Residential Educator of the Year. In typical fashion, Curry gives all the credit to his students. “Our kids are incredibly unselfish and hard-working. They make us educators look better than we are,” he says. “That was a nice honor and something that I definitely –– because it came from students –– something I hold very dear.”

Curry sees a direct connection between career and technical education and academics. “It’s important for students to get exposure to CTE at an early age, because it offers them, maybe for the first time, access to skills directly associated with careers,” he says. “Kids don’t even necessarily need to know that what they are doing is exposing them to a career that they might have in 10 or 15 years, but it is allowing them to explore what they like and what they might want to learn more about, and what academic areas tie into it. Not only will they be able to see more clearly the importance of their academic courses, which tie into their CTE areas of interest, but they can start to assess their own passions and abilities.”

Learn more about Milton Hershey School’s CTE Programs:

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