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Academy preparing teens for world of technology

May 11, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

WILLIAMSPORT- Some teenagers at Williamsport High School are on the cutting edge of career technology in Washington County.

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They use metal lathes and other machines to craft objects from plans they design on computers. They learn technical writing, teamwork and drafting.

The 14 juniors in the state's first Academy of Manufacturing at Williamsport High are gaining the exposure to business and the practical skills they need to be successful in the world of production.

"We're trying to promote the readiness of students to enter the manufacturing world," said Williamsport High Assistant Principal Michele Fagan, who serves as a program liaison.The academy is open to 11th- and 12th-grade students who meet program entry requirements such as a 2.5 grade point average and recommendations from several teachers.

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It provides participants with vocational skills such as technical drawing on computers and paper, technical writing and machining, Fagan said.

They learn "soft skills" such as cooperating with others in small groups.

County businesses need workers with both vocational and social skills, said Devin Donovan, product development manager at Hatch & Kirk Manufacturing in Hagerstown.

"If I were a Swearingen Aircraft Co. or a Ford Motor Co. looking for a location to build a new plant, I would be looking for a location that supports the manufacturing trades along with the ability to get people in the door who will work together effectively," Donovan said.

In addition to honing interpersonal skills, academy students can earn college credits through a partnership with Hagerstown Community College, and serve internships at area manufacturers, Fagan said.

The academy gives students the opportunity to communicate with local manufacturers and see how their businesses work, she added.

"You can tell kids what they do at Mack Trucks, but it's a whole different ball game when you go there," said Williamsport High Assistant Principal Warren Barrett, who helped with the academy's planning.

Field trips to area manufacturers such as Hatch & Kirk and Mack Trucks give students a chance to make educated decisions about whether they want to work in manufacturing, Donovan said.

Such businesses benefit from the pool of skilled potential employees, Fagan said.

"When the students leave here, they are beyond entry level," said Leroy Shook, who teaches technology education at Williamsport High.

His academy students in late April worked at computer terminals and drafting tables to design the objects they would later make in teacher Jim Prelog's technology lab.

Academy participants Mike Long, 17, and William Barnhart, 16, used computer drafting software to design hammers and plumb bobs - lead weights on ropes used to determine water depth and whether vertical surfaces are level.

"It's a lot of fun," Long said. "You can draw anything from isometrics to 3-D drawings."

"Once you get into it, it's awesome," added Barnhart, who hopes the computer and machining experience that he's gaining through the academy will give him an edge over other future job applicants.

After designing plans, students use raw materials to craft their ideas into real objects in a lab filled with lathes, drills, routers, welders and other machinery.

"I'm hoping eventually that they can take this information and transfer it to any job they want to do," Prelog said.

The academy mixes a "fairly rigorous" academic curriculum, including English with an emphasis on business writing, physics and advanced algebra, with vocational training, Fagan said.

Students undergo quarterly reviews of their academic standing, behavior and attendance, and can be put on probation or released from the program if they don't meet the academy's standards, Fagan added.

The academic portion of the program is challenging but worthwhile, said Long, who wants to become an engineer.

"We think it's a great program," said Greg Eckhart, human relations manager at Mack Trucks, which recently donated $10,000 to the program.

Washington County lacked a program geared toward training interested students in the technical and interpersonal skills necessary for success in the manufacturing arena, Eckhart said.

Mack Trucks officials found a shortage of machine-qualified candidates when they started intense hiring in 1997, he said.

The company networked with other similarly distressed businesses, and a group of manufacturers approached the Washington County Board of Education to spearhead a vocational training program, Eckhart said.

Business leaders worked with educators to develop the academy's curriculum, Fagan said. An advisory board of manufacturers and education representatives oversee and guide the fledgling academy.

"We hope to define for the educators what students really need to know to be an effective employee and team member," said Donovan, a member of the advisory board.

The program's funding was built into the county school budget, but donations of time and money from businesses have buoyed the academy's success, Fagan said.

"It's a highly warranted investment," Donovan said. "I am selfish. I want good people coming to work in this factory. I feel the businesses in the community and on the academy advisory board are as selfish as I am about finding, training and retaining solid employees," he added.

The academy next school year will be open to eligible students from all county schools, but class size will be limited to about 25 students, Fagan said.

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