Before her engineering program moved into the former Hamilton County High School at Harrison Bay, Ooltewah High School student Monica Bush said the space they were using was cramped. But the brand-new setup has potential, she said.
"[The program's] changed a lot since I started here. It's a huge adjustment from this year and last year," said Monica, 15. "I'm ready to see how this new adjustment plays out. I like it here."
At the beginning of this school year, the program moved in with an advanced manufacturing program from Central High and took over the old adult high school. The change, said principal Gary Kuehn, was because the district saw a need to better utilize the space.
Originally built to house other vocational programs, the facility most recently welcomed nontraditional students from across the county who had failed in other classroom environments. But its location made it hard for students to attend.
So the district decided to revert the building to its original use and combine the two institutes at Harrison Bay. Now, students have large classroom studios to spread out their carpentry projects, new labs for their AP computer science classes, and freshly painted hallways.
Ooltewah High's Institute of Architecture and Engineering Design focuses on the engineering principles of designing, modeling and building different architectural projects, while the Institute of Advanced Manufacturing and Mechatronics from Central High prepares students for the world of manufacturing.
The Harrison Bay Future Ready Institute hosts two sessions, one in the morning for freshmen and sophomores and one in the afternoon for juniors and seniors. Students don't just take program-focused courses, but also core classes like English and biology.
"Right now we're hoping to really get people to see the uniqueness of this particular opportunity," Kuehn said. "You know, it's a school within schools, but we're trying to create our own identity."
During the first week of classes, students went through an orientation process to become familiar with the types of projects they will be working on at the institute. They grouped into teams to build a birdhouse, cutting out the pieces, drilling and painting together. Kuehn reported only two splinters.
The school also currently serves as the campus for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Chattanooga State Community College's welding program. When that program leaves the space in October, it will leave equipment for the high school students to use.
Kuehn has lofty dreams for the institute, including hiring a new welding teacher to use the equipment left by Chattanooga State, purchasing 3-D printers and mobile science labs and bringing over a culinary program.
In reworking the program, Kuehn is also working with local companies to develop partnerships so that during a student's senior year they'll participate in internships or apprenticeships. "That's our four-year plan: getting them prepared during their freshman, sophomore, junior years with all the preliminary classes they need and then trying to find some actual real-world experience."
Monica said there's already a noticeable difference in the environment.
"The teachers really push you to your level and then more," she said. "They see the best in you and want you to do more."
Email Sabrina Bodon at email@example.com.