The 21st century shop class in high school has gone beyond woodworking and metalworking. Now the classrooms are stocked with iPads, 3D printers and computer hardware.
At Kenmore East High School students’ homework assignments include “binary hexadecimal numbering systems” and projects that test their engineering skills, such as building helmet-mounted digital cameras.
These are the shop classes of the 21st century.
Since 2011, the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District quietly has been taking the lead locally on repackaging courses and amenities such as its Cisco Networking Lab into academies the state certifies as “career and technical education” – commonly referred to as CTE – programs.
“This is a pretty rare thing to have at the high school level,” instructor Alex Sowyrda said of his course that teaches the hardware, routers and Internet connections needed to set up a computer network. “This is typically a college or beyond type of course. In fact, if they were to take this Cisco course in college, it would be the same curriculum. This isn’t watered-down.”
These are not career and tech programs in the skilled trades such as welding, plumbing and electrical systems traditionally offered by Erie 1 BOCES and some public schools. Ken-Ton’s four academies are in the modern fields of computer networking, pre-engineering, virtual enterprise and finance as well as in information technology, its newest such offering. They’re geared toward giving students an edge in college and in competing for the jobs of tomorrow.
Ken-Ton’s programs underscore an effort seen in school systems across the state and country, where educators have been pushing for courses that better prepare students for the 21st century workforce. Business leaders have argued for years that schools are not adequately preparing students for modern work, including competing with workers in other countries.
Supporters of the new career programs also argue that they do a better job engaging students in school. One national study by the Gates Foundation reported that 81 percent of students who dropped out nationwide said that learning skills they could apply in the workforce might have encouraged them to graduate.
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