CHS makes changes to tech ed department

By on June 12, 2019


The face of technology education is changing at Cocalico High School this summer, as two long-time teachers depart and the department transforms to make way for courses that respond to modern workforce demands.

Jim Stafford retired mid-year after 31 years with the district, and Phill Fassnacht put in his final day with students on June 3 after 25 years.

Cocalico’s technology education offerings have been redesigned to accommodate more science and engineering-based curricula, but the department will also retain its commitment to popular courses such as computer design; television production; and energy, power and transportation.

The changes reflect a shift away from industrial arts toward STEAM strategies.

“A lot of our original stuff, we used to call it ‘make it, take it'” said department chair Greg Buck, who has been on staff since 1989. “Now, it’s evolved to become much more career-based. You’re working on architectural plans or 3D modeling or welding.”

Buck’s department got its first Macintosh computer back in 1991, and it was used for early desktop publishing classes. Now, laptops are everywhere. And traditional electronics lessons (think: how to wire a house) are being phased out to make room for an emphasis on digital and coding-related electronics.
Dust will still fly in the wood lab, and there will still be sparks in the welding area. But those spaces will be increasingly guided by computer design, as the district strives to give students experiences that mirror improvements happening in local trades.

None of that was a given. Traditional technology education is often so undervalued that Buck feared he would lose two positions when Fassnacht and Stafford announced their retirements.

Instead, Cocalico officials recommitted to the program by hiring three new tech ed faculty members districtwide.

Cocalico is also continuing its roll out of Project Lead the Way, a national curriculum meant to emphasize engineering in hands-on courses. This year, the high school offered an introductory course. Next year, students are enrolling in digital electronics and principles of engineering.

The classes are helping the department remain relevant for those considering skilled vocations and those who have an eye on four-year college degrees.

“It’s not only Project Lead the Way,” Fassnacht said recently. “Our guidance department is helping. They’re starting to hear us a little better. It’s not all about AP classes. Designing and making things are equally important. We hear kids all the time saying, ‘I wish I’d taken more hand-on classes.'”
One recent graduate turned his experience into a full-time job. After he designed parking garages for High Construction as a class assignment, the company hired him immediately after graduation.

That’s the idea behind modern career and technical education courses, which often have more academic rigor than their predecessors. According to the federal government, about 8.3 million high school students took at least one CTE course during the 2016-17 school year, up from 7.6 million in 2007-08.
The goal is to provide both the knowledge and the technical expertise required to get a high-paying trades job or enter a two- or four-year program that will continue teaching similar skills.

On a recent day, students in Fassnacht’s classroom were wrapping up silk screen and offset-printing projects. Next year, they’ll be upgrading to new equipment that allows them to print directly from a computer onto mylar plates, instead of producing a negative.

It’s just one physical improvement the department is making.

Over the last two school years, the high school has added nine 3D printers, the majority of those in tech ed spaces. At year’s end, students were creating car parts to help customize models as part of their energy, power and transportation course. They reverse engineered a care and then designed accessories, such as trailers or plows, that they had to ‘print’ out of filament and affix without making other modifications.

“That touch and feel really helps them learn to problem solve,” Buck said.

In all, the school board has approved $100,000 in new technology equipment for 2019-20, allowing Buck to develop a wish list that will help students be ready for a full-time job the day after graduation.
Purchases include a computer-controlled plasma cutter, a computer-controlled router, new robotics kits, drones and a studio-in-a bucket for on-location TV shoots. They had a graphics consultant come in and recommend the best options for a new digital imaging class. And in 2020-21, Buck hopes to set up a dedicated welding and precision machining area.

“The community has expressed a high demand for that,” Buck said. “We’re teaching skills that will not only last a lifetime, but skills that will get you employed.”
Kimberly Marselas is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.

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