“I think sometimes there’s an assumption that students who go to the tech center, that they’re not gonna go to college.” That assumption, Matt Neckers adds, is a dated one. “What I tell people is my students are already in college.”
Neckers teaches Creative Media Art & Design at Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park. His class is an all-day, year-long (sometimes two) immersive experience that gets students ready for college or the workforce—though many of them will complete his class with 12 college credits already under their belt. That’s because they’re also enrolled in CCV’s Fast Forward program, which allows students to earn both technical center and college credit simultaneously, and tuition free.
Because of the way the class is structured, “we have so much more contact time with students than you’d have in a traditional college setting,” Neckers says. “We’re talking about five to six hours a day minimum, five days a week, for two three-credit classes a semester….I think we have an ability to go a lot deeper than the average program.”
Neckers describes Creative Media as “basically an all-day art class.” Curriculum includes graphic design, photography, film, animation, drawing, painting, you name it. They even have a radio station. “We have a really nice facility,” says Neckers. “And the great thing about career and technical education is that we have industry-standard equipment. We have the giant large-format printer. Everybody has a 27-inch iMac. Everybody’s got a camera…we have really great resources that the average person doesn’t have.”
Another great resource is the relationship Neckers has cultivated with the Vermont Studio Center, the international artist residency program ten minutes down the road in Johnson. Through this relationship, students have an opportunity to work with visiting artists from around the world; for the past six weeks, they’ve been working on a stop-motion animation project with a professional animator from L.A. One year, a collaboration with the photographer Marilyn Montufar culminated in a show at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City that included GMTCC student work.
“My experience is that education can be transformational,” says Neckers. “And so if you have the right kind of setup, that can be really dynamic and life-changing for students.”
Indeed, Neckers’s students are going on to do all kinds of amazing things. Some have pursued art and design at schools like RIT, UVM, Maine College of Art, and Savannah College of Art & Design. His students have won the Vermont Presidential Scholars award, Skills USA championships, and multiple awards in the Vermont Congressional Art Competition. One is writing children’s books, another is teaching art at Craftsbury Academy. One graduated from Mass Art with an animation degree and is currently painting custom bike frames in Boston.
Elias Gillen—who recently won the Vermont Presidential Scholars award—was homeschooled until 10th grade, when he started the pre-tech program at GMTCC. Now he’s in his second year of Neckers’s program, and as Neckers puts it, “he’s essentially getting paid to go to high school.” Students can opt to spend their second year in an internship, so Gillen is working full-time as a videographer for Beacon Hill Construction. “It’s a really good opportunity,” Gillen says. He’s also in the midst of launching his own small video production company, and “to say that I’m already working, and I’m in school—it’s really helpful.”
“He’s making better movies than I can make,” says Neckers. “And that’s because he is so focused and so able…My goal with students is for them to be able to get their own information and teach themselves. I don’t have one of those programs where I stand in front of the classroom and lecture students. It’s very constructivist, finding your own answers, so that when they leave my program they keep making art because it’s not just somebody telling them what to do all the time.”
Like other career and technical educators, Neckers brings real-world experience to his classroom. As a professional visual artist—whose Vermont Studio Center show “Cataclysm: Familiar Robots & Their Animal Kindred” just wrapped up at the end of March—he balances time in the classroom with time in his own studio. “I have the advantage, unlike a lot of teachers, of teaching what I love. It isn’t that much work to do something that you really care about.”
Gillen says Neckers treats his students like adults—peers, maybe? “Not a peer, but a coworker. You feel like you connect with him more than you maybe would with a different teacher.” And the collaborative nature of this relationship means students are encouraged to follow their interests. “He’s supportive in whatever way you want to go,” Gillen says. “He has such a wide variety of knowledge, he can really help you with anything you want to do.”
Though he’ll push pause on school to focus on his business next year, Gillen says the credits he earned through Fast Forward are incredibly valuable. “For me it’s particularly good because I can say that I do have college credits…Most kids don’t get that amount of college credit from high school. Twelve is kind of insane from a high school class. Insane in a good way.”
Learn more about CCV’s Fast Forward program at gotocollegevt.org.