published Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Schools ramp up career, tech classes across region


by Kelli Gauthier
Audio clip

Ryan Lewis

Things are getting more technical in schools across the region as educators try to prepare their students for jobs in new industries coming to the area.

Even schools with no extra money in the budget are doing all they can to increase their career and technical education offerings, so that when companies such as Volkswagen and Wacker Chemical come to the area students will have a chance to snag the jobs.

"We are trying to do more with what we already have," said Kay Light, director of career and technical education for the Marion County Department of Education. "We've looked at what we do have to see if it aligns with what's going to be needed. We feel like we're offering the right programs."

  • photo
    Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press In an advanced design application class taught by Ryan Lewis at South Pittsburg High School, students Ashley Avans, Paige Case and Meghan Allen use calculators to figure the altitude of rockets they built and launched at the school on Wednesday morning.

South Pittsburg High School, for instance, isn't adding classes, but it's changing what it now offers to add what officials hope is more rigor and relevance.

Next year, the school's Technology and Engineering Education program will be guided by the national Project Lead the Way curriculum, which will give students a chance to earn college credits.

"The projects they'll do are a lot harder, more math intensive," said South Pittsburg teacher Ryan Lewis. "It's a college-level curriculum."

Mr. Lewis, who has been adding Project Lead the Way classes to his course load in recent years, said that when students are polled, engineering technology always is one of the areas where there is the most interest.

"And there's a real job market for that right now," he said.

Even though the state recently began requiring all Tennessee public school students to pursue a single-track diploma -- rather than having the choice of a vocational path -- Ms. Light said her department is trying to convince people about the merit of vocational training.

"We're trying to help the community understand that career and tech is just as challenging and helpful as core academic programs," she said. "It's not either-or that they need. They need a balance of both."

Ms. Light said she would like to see the state start an industrial maintenance program that trains students in several technical areas, such as electrical, construction and welding.

After taking three technical training courses, South Pittsburg junior Josh Parker hopes to pursue mechanical engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga or the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"I didn't know what (mechanical engineering) was, but getting in this class, I realized how much I liked it," he said. "I could do this stuff all day."

Fellow junior Meghan Allen is taking Advanced Design Applications with Mr. Parker. She wants to be a doctor someday but said she appreciates the learning she gets in the engineering classes.

"Anything you're going to do, you're going to have to investigate," she said. "This brings in math, chemistry, English, trigonometry, and it's a whole lot (more fun) than the book work."

Follow Kelli Gauthier on Twitter at twitter.com/gauthierkelli

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about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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