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New Tech High School Primes Students For The Workplace

Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 11:15 AM

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One component of Ohio’s unemployment problem is certainly a lack of jobs – politicians would like to see a lot more of them – but another important piece involves what you might call a “talent gap” (or “skills gap”). Many employers – and especially manufacturers – say they struggle to find workers who have both the technical know-how AND sound work ethic essential to running a productive shop. One local school is trying to fix this problem at the beginning of the pipeline – preparing students to thrive in the workplace with equal emphasis on technical skills and professionalism. Ideastream's Michelle Kanu has the story.

Frew: “Good morning everyone, lets head to class…”

Principal Erin Frew says one of the hardest things about teaching ninth and tenth graders at New Tech High School is getting them to treat school like it’s a job.

Frew: “It’s finally starting to sink in with some of them.  Because a lot of them would say, but this isn’t a job! And I’d say, ‘yes it is.  You’re getting paid in your grades.  And if you get paid a good grade then eventually that’s going to get you money in the real world.’”

Helping students make that connection between going to school and going to work is a big part of Frew’s job as the founding principal here.  Located on Cleveland’s west side in the basement of Garrett Morgan high school, New Tech is one of Cleveland’s “new and innovative” schools created under former CEO Eugene Sanders.  Students take traditional high school courses, but special emphasis is placed on using technology and preparing to enter the workforce.  And the instruction itself is unconventional; rather than revolving around lectures and textbooks, classes at New Tech are project based and students are always working in groups.

In one class, a group is using geometry, to design the most optimal packaging for golf balls. 

(sound of science class fades in)

In this class, Solomon Young is testing how the color of food – in this case mashed potatoes- affects whether people like it. 

While getting acquainted with the scientific method of experimentation, the kids are also having a good time. 

Young: “Everybody, did my mashed potatoes taste good?”

Class: “No!”

Ninth grader Jayzelle Jackson sees all of this teamwork and tech experience paying off down the road.

Jackson: “Jobs in the future will be a lot more technology based, so you should know how to do it before you leave high school.  In this school, they teach you how to do it with laptops, video cameras, and other good stuff.”

(sound of science class fades out)

New Tech is part of a network of public schools that started in the technology hotbed of California’s Silicon Valley and branched out to 14 states. 

Frew says teachers are constantly pushing students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.  And to really drive the point home, New Tech grades students like employees on the job.

Frew: “Content knowledge is the biggest part of the grade, obviously. And that’s what they need to know based on the content standards.  The other parts are the things that we call those soft skills, the things they need to be successful in the real world.”

Things like a good work ethic, and the ability to communicate – which are especially important to employers like Rich Ditto, VP of Operations at Fredon, a small company in Mentor that manufactures all types of parts for all types of industries.

Ditto: “If the young people show up for work everyday, on time, work hard, want to learn, and show us that initiative, we can do the rest.  But you’d be surprised how many young people today don’t have that.”

Ditto says his company frequently hires employees fresh out of high school, as long as they demonstrate a “can do attitude,” strong basic math skills, and a desire to make things.  If they meet that standard, Fredon will provide any additional training they need for the job.  The company does work with local schools to find new workers, but Ditto says there’s more schools can do to prime students for the workplace.

Ditto: “Most importantly—even for the teachers—get out into the business world and see what they’re training these kids for.  See what it’s like to work in a manufacturing facility.”

New Tech plans to make field trips to local companies a regular part of students’ education experience.

At just two years in, New Tech still has two MORE years before the first graduates cross the stage.  When they do, teacher Amy Benko believes employers will take notice. 

Benko: “I think that interviewers will see that confidence with our students.  Because they are going to be very used to being in front of others and understanding how it is to be professional and carry yourself a certain way, even if its for an entry level job.”

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