Weekly Feature

2015-03-18 / Front Page

Engineering program boasts success

by STEVEN JAGORD
Editor

Students in Clarence who are enrolled in the district’s Project Lead the Way program are on the path to top colleges and well-paying careers with Fortune 500 companies, according to a presentation on Monday at the Board of Education meeting.

Program faculty and current and former students testified to the curriculum’s impact on their ability to learn in Clarence and beyond.

With PLTW, the Engineering Technology department offers students an opportunity to learn math, science, and technology in an applied, hands-on way that is high in application to real life problems. Through lab work and field experiments, students are able to explore engineering and other technology-based careers before college.

All Clarence Middle School students are exposed to the program through introductory courses such as Design and Modeling and Science of Technology. Teacher Brad Wright said it’s to encourage students as they make their way toward college to consider a career in engineering.

“A lot of technical sketching is done at this level,” Wright said. “Sketching moves on to digital modeling, which then moves on to prototypes. The focus of this is to get [students] familiar with standard operating procedures so when they get to high school they’re familiar with the process.”

At the high school level, 25 percent of the student body participates in PLTW. The six-course curriculum includes courses such as Computer Manufacturing and Civil Engineering and Architecture. The high school also fosters extracurricular clubs and activities, such as the trebuchet catapult competition each fall at The Great Pumpkin Farm. Others include the “Tech Wars” competitions at Erie and Niagara community colleges. Clarence took home second place in this year’s competition at NCCC.

CHS junior Nick Moline testified to the program’s ability to make engineering applicable to what the students already know, as well as fun.

“They really take what you learn in your math and science classes and show you what you can make and what you can think of when you combine the two,” Moline said.

Moline described the progression he has made since his freshman year with his “battle bots” project.

“If you looked at the first one I made and this one, you would see a great improvement,” he said. “This is just one example of what this program could offer me as far as technical knowledge. If I were never to take these programs and want to go to college for engineering, I would not feel very confident. But right now I feel if you threw me into college I could succeed.”

Started in Clarence in 1998, PLTW had only 8 percent female enrollment when the program last presented to the Board of Education a few years back. Today that number has doubled to 16 percent, with hopes for future growth.

One of the current female students, Madeline Dennehy, praised the faculty for letting students figure out solutions on their own, citing an experiment where students needed to figure out how to fly kites during a snowstorm.

“Thankfully, I got mine to fly, and now we are on to 8-foot kites,” Dennehy said. “I am doing things for myself and learning how to be an independent, lifelong learner.”

2007 CHS grad and former PLTW student Colleen Creighton now works at Case Design Inc. in New York City.

Creighton is now one of hundreds of PLTW graduates working around the world for companies such as Case Design, Apple, Google, Moog and NASA. The program has a 100 percent job placement rate with average starting salaries at $55,000. She added that interacting with technology at a young age helped encourage her down a career path in engineering.

“I use the program I learned in ninth grade on a daily basis,” Creighton said.

“Technology, whether we want to accept it or not, is the language of today’s generation. It is used virtually in all professions in some way and exposure to it early on is essential.”

Some of the courses are eligible for college credit at Rochester Institute of Technology and ECC.

In other matters, a bus purchase proposition motion was tabled until a future meeting. The district would like to put an almost $1 million proposal before voters in May to replace 12 aging vehicles in the fleet.

District Business Manager Richard Mancuso hopes that proposals will be approved by voters for the next five years in order to reach full replacement, which he says is cheaper than maintaining aging vehicles.

“A fully implemented plan would cost $18 to $20 per year out of a $3,000 tax bill on an average $200,000 house,” Mancuso said.

Trustee Roger Showalter said he had concerns that voters might be fatigued by propositions after two were approved in the fall for capital improvements to all six buildings and the athletics fields at the high school.

“My concern is that we have asked a lot of the taxpayers this year with the capital improvements bonds,” he said. “It looks to me like we could take a year off on the buses.”

The next Board of Education meeting, which will be the third budget session, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, March 30, in the lecture hall at Clarence High School, 9625 Main St.

email: sjagord@beenews.com

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