A day after another horrific school massacre, this one at a high school in Florida, Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford had a message for students at Harford Technical High School Thursday.
Rutherford encouraged students and parents to report anything “troubling” from a classmate or friend that they see on social media.
“In most cases, it’ not going to mean anything, but we just want to be careful,” he said. “Incidents like this, we see that sometimes young people are troubled, and it could be a warning sign that they need some help right now before it gets worse.”
Rutherford was at the magnet school in Bel Air to learn about the various programs open to its students.
The visit had been scheduled prior to Wednesday’s mass shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Fla., that left 17 students and staff dead and 14 wounded, some with life-threatening injuries.
The 19-year-old suspect, Nikolas Cruz, posted threats on social media along with pictures of him posing with firearms. His threats were twice reported to the FBI, according to national news media reports.
Rutherford also said the Maryland State Police can work with local school districts to prepare for an active shooter incident.
The students at Harford Technical High School have “bright futures,” said Rutherford, who during his tour met a number of them and observed them learning multiple skill sets sought by employers.
Principal Joe Collins guided Rutherford, members of Rutherford’s staff and Harford County Public Schools representatives through Harford Tech’s varied hands-on classrooms, such as construction, welding, engineering and design, auto maintenance, cyber security and culinary arts.
Despite the Florida school shooting, Rutherford encountered a bright atmosphere at Harford Tech Thursday, as he met students and teachers eager to show him their projects.
His first stop was the construction area, where he met and posed for pictures with students wearing hard hats. Michael Svezzese Jr., the construction and carpentry instructor, guided the lieutenant governor through sections of a house built by students.
Welding teacher William Fuentes showed Rutherford decorative objects his students cut from metal, such as afacsimile of the outline the State of Maryland as seen on a map and crabs. Rutherford slipped on a protective mask as he watched senior Hartwin Debye use a machine, throwing sparks as he worked on metal.
Fuentes said visits like Rutherford’s are helpful because it gives state officials a better understanding of what students need for vocational programs.
“This is my passion,” he said. “I love teaching welding and watching the guys being able to get stuff done.”
Rutherford saw a number of 3-D printed figures made by students in the engineering and CADD, or computer-aided drafting and design, program.
“He seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing,” junior Casey Jenkins said. “I thought that that was pretty notable.”
Junior Samantha Kautsch said she was “happy to meet” the lieutenant governor.
“It was an honor to show him what we do for a living,” junior Darran Byrd, who wants to be a game designer, said.
The tour wrapped with a tasting of food prepared by culinary students. Seniors Victoria Grubowski and Kristyan Hahn described for Rutherford the dishes they and their classmates prepared, including bruschetta, a “stack” of prosciutto ham and cantaloupe melon, a mini-quesadilla and cookies and truffles.
Harford Tech has more than 1,000 students, according to the HCPS website, and its vocational and technical programs are open to students countywide.
The school is typically listed as over-capacity, and suggestions of building another vocational school in the Route 40 corridor — or using existing space for vo-tech programs — were put forth by school board members and members of the public during discussions on the fiscal 2019 budget at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
Rutherford said the governor’s office would like to see more programs, such as those offered at Harford Tech, in other parts of the state.
“We would like to see more school districts have vocational training, skills training, because there is such a demand, so this is a good model for other places as well,” he said.
“The governor and I, and all of our staff, hear from businesses all the time that they’re looking for skilled talent in those areas, so they’re going to have bright futures,” Rutherford said following the tour.
It was the first stop on Rutherford’s Harford County itinerary Thursday. He also was scheduled to visit the Harford Center and Upper Bay Counseling & Support Services, both in Havre de Grace, and then speak at a Harford County Chamber of Commerce dinner in Edgewood, according to Paul Beatty, special adviser to the lieutenant governor.
Report suspicious activity
In the aftermath of the Florida shooting, Donoven Brooks, coordinator of safety and security for HCPS, encouraged people to report anything that seems suspicious in or around a school.
“We encourage staff, students and parents/guardians that if they, 'See something' that appears to be suspicious or wrong, that they, ‘Say and do something,’” Brooks said in an emailed statement.
Brooks, who recently joined HCPS, stressed that safety and security are the “utmost priority” for school system leaders, and that protocols and procedures are in place at each of Harford County’s 54 schools.
“The members of the administrative teams and staff at each school will continue the practice of school safety and emergency response drills,” he stated. “We will remain vigilant in maintaining the safety of our students.”