Last month, we introduced a Western Wisconsin CTE program whose shift towards project-based learning led to the development of a Fab Lab – and in turn, increased student engagement across all grade levels. Below, we continue the article with discussion of the industry partnerships that are helping keep the program relevant and reactions from students whose CTE experiences are increasing.
School District of Altoona Technology Education Teacher Jeffrey Ballentine credits the district’s relationship with several local industry and education representatives, such as the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), for helping the district ensure that the CTE courses they’re offering are both rigorous and relevant. In August 2017, for example, the CVTC Foundation was awarded a $133,200 grant from 3M to purchase mechatronics trainers for use in area high schools, including Altoona High School. Through the grant, Ballentine was able to offer a mechatronics course for the first time to his students, generating interest in manufacturing career pathways early – pathways offered by CVTC, should Altoona High School students discover an interest in the program and want to explore further after graduation.
“Without that networking relationship, we wouldn’t be able to offer this type of program,” said Ballentine, who is an adjunct instructor at CVTC. “Education is a huge business at the secondary and post-secondary level… both [the University of Wisconsin] Stout and CVTC have more of a feel for industry; their advisory council was hearing the need for welders and machinists, for instance, and that’s why we added the mill.”
According to Jeff Sullivan, dean of Manufacturing, Engineering Information Technology and Apprenticeship at CVTC, encouragement for partnerships like this comes directly from industry.
“Many of our industry advisory members have encouraged CVTC to develop pathways for high schoolers which will lead to careers in the region,” said Sullivan. “It is also important to support our secondary schools so they can obtain resources to meet the needs of their programs and align to the mission of our college.”
The Altoona School District is one of the only districts in Wisconsin to require CTE program participation for students in fourth and fifth grade, and the impact of that regular instruction is starting to show. The 2019-2020 school year will be the first one where high school students who elect to take CTE courses will be doing so with up to five year’s of CTE courses under their belt.
“We’re starting to see the dividends of that across curriculum,” said Peggs. “When we get to seventh grade, for instance, we focus hard on metrics and measurement and science. By then, we’re finding that many students have done so much work in the Fab Lab that they’re coming into their seventh-grade science classes with the basics already learned… which means we can go even deeper. That’s huge.”
“Students taking four to five years of CTE classes will force the high school coursework to change, to incorporate industry-level activities,” added Ballentine. “In turn, this will allow students to be able to get a better, more educated understanding of careers and explore possible futures.”
One impact of students coming to higher-level CTE and core academic courses with greater knowledge: The chance to take advantage of learning opportunities like dual enrollment. Currently, Altoona High School students can earn dual enrollment credits in welding, CAD and small engines, and apply those credits after graduation to any college within the University of Wisconsin system. Students can also earn a Snap-on® certificate for multimeter use through Ballentine’s consumer electronics, home and auto, and small engines classes; the certificate is considered by industry as essential for industries like automotive repair, transportation and manufacturing.
“It comes down to if they like the topic, or if they don’t like it,” said Ballentine. “If they like it, then maybe they’ll go onto college for it – and they’ll enter their courses prepared for success. If they don’t, then they didn’t just spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to find that out.”
More Courses, More Student Opportunities
Student statements, along with enrollment numbers, reflect students’ positive attitudes towards the district’s growing CTE program.
“I feel smart when I’m creating projects,” said 15-year-old Anah Jackson, who just finished her ninth-grade year. She’s taken building construction and graphic design at Altoona, and said she’d take more CTE programs in the future. “I just laser-engraved a porcelain mug for my mom for Mother’s Day, and I had to create the design, adjust it in a computer app, then set it up for engraving… it was so cool to see the final project.”
“These are all hands-on, interesting classes,” added 17-year-old Gavan Olson, who has taken graphic design, welding and an introductory engineering course at Altoona. “I’m able to take my ideas and actually create something I can have. I learn by doing, and that’s all this class is – you learn by doing.”
When the 2019-2020 school year commences this fall, Ballentine will become department chair of the CTE department. He plans to continue ensuring that equipment is up and running, that teachers receive the training they need, and that courses are added as needed.
“It has been a lot of work to set up and put our program into practice, and we have a ways to go as technology speeds ahead of education,” said Ballentine, explaining that they’re currently working to refine their program regarding curriculum and course selection. “We’ll keep doing the next right thing, because it’s the right thing to do. This coming year, we will develop a continuous improvement model in order to add newer and more current equipment and develop new student activities to match career field skill sets…. This is a journey that is always changing to fill needs of our society.”
Written by: Timm Boettcher, Realityworks, Inc.
Timm Boettcher is the President and CEO of Realityworks, Inc., an education company that creates innovative learning tools for skills training. Passionate about the benefits of education-industry collaboration, Timm also chairs the Industry Workforce Needs Coalition, serves on the Board of Directors for Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) and chairs the Western Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.