It was a Brooklyn high school that received recognition for its innovative technical education during the State of the Union Tuesday, but Clinton Township residents can find a model for the president’s proposed redesign of America’s high schools much closer to home.
Chippewa Valley Schools is just one of several Macomb County districts that have, in recent years, moved to partner with institutions of higher education and integrate on-the-job training into their career technical education programs.
“Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so those German kids, they're ready for a job when they graduate high school,” said President Barack Obama during his speech. “Tonight, I'm announcing a new challenge, to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.”
As with Race to the Top, the president said this newest challenge would also encourage schools to compete and reward those that “develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math.”
With dozens of career technical education courses already in place and a new energy and innovation academy set to open in another year, Chippewa Valley’s high schools are already a step ahead of the proposed redesign.
“We’re definitely on the right track,” said Claire Brisson, director of Chippewa’s Career Technical Education. While the district is not at the point of CTE students graduating high school with a full associate’s degree, students are receiving credit at local community colleges and learning technical skills in everything from CNC machining to construction.
The new energy and innovation academy will focus specifically on mechatronics, a combination of mechanical and electrical engineering and computer programming.
Developed with a two-year curriculum, students will take several courses that support their state-required common core education, but do so through the study of mechatronics, physics, energy studies, English and social studies. Their English and social studies courses will be designed to supplement their mechatronics studies and a senior capstone project will provide opportunities for dual enrollment, work experience or industry research projects before graduation.
Brisson said she expects some elements of the academy to also be influenced by her present work with the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2) Program, a pilot program through the state of Michigan to partner 30 recent high school graduates with global companies that will sponsor their mechatronics education and training.
“The students will start working at their sponsoring company right away part time and go to college,” Brisson said. “It’s an amazing opportunity. It’s a three-year training program and a two-year commitment to work for your company after that. … Students who complete the program can expect to start with at least $40,000 a year, full benefits, an associate’s degree and industry certification.”
It’s a program Brisson hopes will not only be successful, but replicated at the high school level so the three-year training program can be cut to two with one year completed through a CTE program like Chippewa's.
Modeled after Germany’s education system, this type of program is designed to train students for skilled jobs that are currently available.
However, with the Michigan Merit Curriculum increasing the number of core classes students are required to take during their high school career, Brisson said she is concerned that elective classes like CTE are being crowded out of students’ schedules.
“CTE is a series of courses,” she added. “It’s a program of study and students have a lot to learn. There has to be a little room. If legislators are as concerned about workforce development as they say, they will realize technical skills are important and make adjustments.”
Until then, Chippewa Valley will continue to integrate as much of the common core into their curriculum as possible in an effort to allow students to earn credit and skill simultaneously.