Salem News Article: Essex Tech sends off its first students accepted into Ivy League
From left, Christopher Morency, 18, of Danvers, stands with fellow Essex Tech students Nathan Hammerschmitt Le Gal, 17, of Lynn, Thomas Politano, 18, of Lynn, and Ali Alkinani, 19, of Beverly, outside of the school. Hammerschmitt Le Gal and Politano will become the first Essex Tech students to attend Ivy League colleges this fall, while Morency and Alkinani have found successful careers in the trades.

DANVERS — Essex Tech will see its first two Ivy Leaguers walk across its graduation stage Thursday evening.

Class of 2023 graduates and Lynn residents Thomas Politano, 18, and Nathan Hammerschmitt Le Gal, 17, will attend Brown University and Dartmouth College this fall, respectively.

Politano came up through the school’s landscaping and turf management program. While he once thought of owning his own landscaping company, internships through Essex Tech helped him realize that this type of work isn’t his full-time passion.

It was when he was introduced to screenwriting by a mentor at Essex Tech that he realized studying the humanities is more of his calling. He wrote his own screenplay and sent a recording of a staged reading of it with his application to Brown.

Now, he plans to major in English or economics at the Rhode Island Ivy League school.

“I made the choice to take a different turn, but the school has done everything in their power to help me,” Politano said. “They’re career focused and academic focused and I’ve gotten the best of both worlds, and they’ve helped me in every career I’ve wanted to explore at the Tech, be it writing or be at landscaping, so I’m very happy.”

Hammerschmitt Le Gal was a part of the Tech’s environmental science program and will major in biology when he arrives at Dartmouth in New Hampshire this fall. He also wants to study the humanities and possibly add an additional major in anthropology or economics.

He learned how to collect data, do fieldwork and how the research process works from both academic and career-oriented lenses at the Tech, and came to appreciate the environment more through his studies, he said.

“It’s just cemented the natural sciences and the environment as interests that I want to pursue further and especially research that process,” Hammerschmitt Le Gal said.

Essex Tech will also send its first student to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore this fall. Groveland resident Amani Benouardia, 18, is also a member of the Tech’s environmental science program and will major in international relations at the school as part of a fast-tracked bachelor and master degree program. She plans to someday become a diplomat to Morocco, her family’s home country.

Benouardia originally wanted to be a marine biologist, but didn’t find herself enjoying the environmental science curriculum at the Tech as much as she’d hoped she would, she said.

“But I did find value in the advocacy aspect and in understanding your environment in general, and I think that led to my interest in political science,” she said.

She also found value in attending a vocation-oriented school despite not heading into the trades. Specifically, because of the opportunities Essex Tech has given her to start new clubs, explore issues that interest her and develop her voice as a leader, Benouardia said.

“I know it keeps coming up where people don’t want Essex Tech to admit freshmen who want to go to college,” she said. “They want people who are going out into the fields to go to the school because they think it’ll help them a little more. But my biggest thing when I came to the school, although I don’t necessarily want to go into the field I studied, is that there was so much to work with here.”

“There’s a duality in the opportunities that are offered for both types of students here,” Hammerschmitt Le Gal added.

Rather than just preparing students to head straight into a trade job, Essex Tech is focused on helping them make the most of their future careers, Assistant Superintendent Thomas O’Toole said.

This includes gaining certifications or, if needed, further training to help them in their careers, which often includes attending college now, he said.

“We’re not your grandparents’ tech school anymore,” O’Toole said. “It’s not the school that you send the kids who struggle or whatever the caricature of it is. That’s long gone. It’s been gone for years.”

The school’s main goal is to integrate leadership development with workforce training for all of its students, O’Toole said.

“The public schools, back in the day, should have required every student to get a technical or agricultural or some kind of skill while they were in high school,” O’Toole said. “The old academy model is the one that this school sort of lives in opposition to.”

That’s not to say Essex Tech isn’t still helping students succeed in the trades, he added. Ali Alkinani, 19, of Beverly, has found a steady career in plumbing through the school since moving to the area from Iraq three years ago.

“All of the teachers here are really nice and we talk like friends,” Alkinani said. “I call them if I need help and they help me find jobs. It’s a great experience, and working in the shop for one week and doing academics the next gives you a rest.”

Danvers resident Christopher Morency, 18, originally wanted to study culinary at Essex Tech but ended up in the electrical program instead.

His shop classes reminded him of the show “How It’s Made,” which he loved watching as a little kid, he said.

“I loved seeing how things are put together, but when I got older, I kind of lost that curiosity,” Morency said. “Then I came here and I got to look at things in a new way and ask myself, ‘How does that work?’

“It’s a really incredible feeling to have that curiosity back.”

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