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HHHS Senior Gains Practical Skills Through Urban Forestry Program

During a typical morning outdoors on the Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES campus with her classmates, Sarah Mickelsen made a discovery. She found an antler, one that appeared to belong to a deer. Nearby was a skull. 

“You can assume there are coyotes or some other animal preying on deer,” Mickelsen said. “It makes you a little more aware of your environment.” 

The Hendrick Hudson High School senior has developed that understanding of her surroundings as a student in BOCES’ Urban Forestry program. Working with instructor John Madden, Mickelsen and her classmates have learned how to operate heavy equipment and hand tools as well as the science of soil and plants. 

She said it’s knowledge that can be applied to anything from laying out patios and walkways to pruning trees and designing landscapes. 

“I have a lot of possibilities from being in this program, and that’s why I chose it,” Mickelsen said. “If I don’t go into a career related to this, I’ll still have a greater understanding of the world around me.” 

In certain cases, the training can even prevent disaster. As part of their program, Mickelsen and her classmates have been taught Horizontal Directional Drilling, learning how to bury new utilities efficiently. She is also enrolled in the Underground Utility Field Technician course, which teaches students how to safely install those new utilities by identifying existing electrical, gas, or water lines. 

“You can use that if you are on a job site so you can understand what the colors and markings mean and know where to and where not to dig,” she said. 

The 17-year-old Mickelsen was inspired to embark on what teacher Madden called a “non-traditional high school” experience based on the success of her older brother, James. He completed BOCES’ Small Engine program, and Mickelsen found practicality in learning trades that could become a career and teach her real-life skills. 

“Even if you don’t go into a job in those careers, you will always have the knowledge of what you learned during the program.” 

Sarah Mickelsen