From vaccinating pets to banking, Massachusetts high school offers innovative curriculum

In our series, School Matters, we take you to one school that's finding success with a unique lesson plan. Massachusetts is ranked first in the nation in K-12 education, and Worcester Technical High School is part of the reason why. The vocational-technical school boasts a graduation rate of more than 99 percent. That compares to an 84 percent rate nationwide.

The 400,000-square foot Worcester Tech building houses a public school with a little more than 1,400 students. Along with typical high school classes, 22 vocational and technical areas of study are consolidated into a single campus – including some, you won't find anywhere else, like the Tufts at Tech veterinary clinic. It's a real-life working clinic that combines students with doctors from Tufts.

"What is the most important aspect of this partnership for you?" Bianna Golodryga asked a student named Daniel.

"Growing up I was always fascinated with animals, so getting experience with them here in high school was the biggest motivation to me," Daniel said. "My big dream overall is to open up my own clinic."

ctm-1010-worcester-tech-vet.jpg
CBS News

Dr. Greg Wolfus who runs the clinic said the hands-on experience for the students is unparalleled.

"Our high school students are getting trained in not only being veterinary care future professionals, but additionally they're learning how to be good and active citizens by providing veterinary services to their neighbors," Wolfus said.

Worcester Tech's student body is diverse. More than half are girls who get their hands dirty under cars and train to be plumbers and welders. The school has a credit union, where students work as tellers. There's cosmetology with manicures and facials. In culinary arts, students learn to prepare food and bake pastries. They cater as many as 75 events each year. Eighty-six percent of Worcester Tech graduates go on to college.

The biotech department uses college-level equipment that helps students to examine and extract their own DNA. That same technology helps them to solve mock crimes. Safiya, a junior, has been part of this program for a few years.

"What do you enjoy most about it?" Golodryga asked her.

"I think how fascinating the human brain is," Safiya said.

"And this is a path you want to pursue throughout college?"

"Yes, very much. I really want to be a pediatrician and specifically develop a program directed at protecting the child's brain," Safiya said.

Worcester Tech is one example of why Massachusetts is first in education in the U.S. "We've invested over $500 million in new funding at the state level," Gov. Charlie Baker said. We spoke with Baker in the school's automotive shop. He says vo-tech schools are an important part of what makes Massachusetts No. 1.

"Their ability to apply exactly what they had learned in the classroom in a very real-world way, really brought sort of a sense of purpose... and made a huge difference," Baker said. "There are a lot of kids doing co-op out of our vo-tech schools where they're making over $20 an hour, in professions where that skill capability can translate into $70-, $80-, $90-, $100-, $120,000 a year, if you stick with it."

That real-world experience pays off for the community as well. Students built a new bridge more than 50 feet long in a nearby historical park. In advanced engineering, they are creating a monument to Worcester-area veterans of World War I.

And they weren't above putting their skills to use for a vanity project: creating the "CBS This Morning" logo. 

ctm-1010-cbs-this-morning-worcester-tech.jpg
CBS News

Watch other stories from our School Matters series: