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Career Pathways Program Gives Stamford Students a Head Start

Connecticut high school students were building drones last week in a summer workshop for the Career Pathways program, designed to give them experience, including internships or apprenticeships, before graduation.

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(TNS) — In an auto shop classroom near the loading docks at Westhill High School, a collection of incoming sophomores were hard at work last week building their own drones.

Leading the way inside were Jesse Glaude, a wood shop teacher at the school, and Adam Scianna, director of early college studies at Stamford High School.

The summer workshop was not meant to help students recover credits or catch up on material like typical summer school classes, but rather to introduce a new manufacturing course the district hopes to build in to the curriculum starting this fall.

"What we really want to build this into is a manufacturing career pathway, teach students what types of jobs are out there," Glaude said.

Manufacturing is just one component. The district's recently created "Career Pathways, Workplace Learning & Apprenticeship" system is meant to help guide students interested in a number of topics so that they can enter career fields after graduation or use the experience to better inform their college studies.

The program is designed so Stamford students with an interest in agri-science, culinary arts, finance, marketing, STEM and other areas can follow a progression of classes to gain experience and knowledge in each.

Claudia Berlage, a former assistant principal at Stamford High School, is heading the Career Pathways department.

The idea for the program originated during talks to rebuild Westhill High School and how best to secure more funds from the state to pay for the new structure. Officials came up with the idea of creating the pathways program and making it regional, something state officials have valued in the past and rewarded with more funding.

Their work was on point: 80 percent of the price tag for the new Westhill will be covered by the state.

Luckily for Berlage, she won't have to build the pathways system from scratch, as many of the classes that fit into the pathways mold are already offered at the high schools.

But one big component she is working to grow is internship and apprenticeship opportunities. So far, she has helped establish a pre-apprenticeship with a local carpenters union that allows students to earn a first year credit for a four-year program, and is trying to establish internships at fintech company FinTron.

An apprenticeship or internship before college, she argued, can give students a sense of the field they are pursuing and what a career in it would look like.

What she hopes to accomplish is better preparing students for the decision to attend college, she said. Many, she argued, go into college with little idea of what to study or what career to pursue. She'd like to see students attend college with more of a purpose, with a clearer idea of how a post-secondary education will help them achieve career goals.

"College is another pathway that ultimately leads to a career," Berlage.

But not everyone goes to college, she said, and the career pathways program of courses and opportunities is also meant to better prepare those students who will enter the workforce once they graduate high school.

"I don't want to discourage people to go to college and find out who they are," Berlage said. "But not everyone has that luxury."

Berlage was raised in a suburb of Zurich, Switzerland, and moved to the United Stated in 1998.

In the Swiss school system, high school students enter an apprenticeship program at the age of 15. That means that by the time they can go to college they already have workplace experience, a system Berlage argued is better geared toward setting young people up for success.

For Glaude, next semester will be a pilot for two pathways classes he is introducing, both of which come with prerequisites.

One is called "power and mechanics," which students who finished "introduction to automobiles" can take. The other is "general construction and emerging technologies," which will include the aforementioned carpenter pre-apprenticeship, and is designed to be taken after "woodworking."

The summer workshop on drone-making, a three-week course of three-hour classes, was a sort of informal kickoff of the new pathways, its teachers said.

"The idea is that if they took part in this this summer, then we could build upon this next summer and then their junior and senior year, they could take pathways courses in the manufacturing pathway," Sciana said.

On Monday of last week, students from Westhill and Stamford High were soldering together components of a drone. The frame and arms of the drone were created using 3D printers in the classroom.

"This is really getting them interested in manufacturing and it's getting them interested in engineering as well," Glaude said.

The drones they were working on were called eVTOL, which stands for "electric vertical takeoff and landing."

Matthew Carpenter, a Westhill student, said the class was the first time he ever practiced soldering.

"It's a lot harder than I thought it would be," he said.

The incoming sophomore said the class was a lot of fun.

"I enjoy this a lot and it's something to just do in the middle of summer when you usually don't have something to do," he said. "It's actually teaching me a lot about something that I didn't think I'd learn this summer."

Sky Gill, a Stamford High student, said the key to soldering and building her drone was being patient.

"The whole making your own drone thing sounded pretty cool, like how you get to use your hands and actually do it yourself," she said, when describing her excitement about the class.

Olivia Cieciwa, a Westhill student, was far along in building her drone.

As to whether it would work or not, she wasn't positive: "Until I build it and test it out, I don't know." she said. "It could work, it could not work."

As Glaude stood in the adjacent woodworking classroom and looked at the students soldering wires and putting together their own drones, he said he wanted the class to be as hands-on as possible.

"We're working in there," he said.

©2022 The Advocate (Stamford, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.