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Hurley High School integrates industrial arts with business
Photo: Northwoods Manufacturing class members stand in front of a Sharp sv24-14-f vertical machining center and CMM machine that is used for quality control.
The industrial arts program at Hurley High School looks more professional than most. Thanks to buy-in from both the school district and local industry, it embodies a form of education that offers students real-world lessons by emulating a business environment. In the process, students learn not only technical skills but also the professionalism highly sought by employers.
“The soft skills they’re using in dealing with people, dealing with teams, communicating – those are invaluable skills nowadays,” says Christopher Patritto, district administrator.
About two and a half years ago, he had the opportunity to get to know business executives at a number of area companies, including Extreme Tool, Ironwood Plastics, Bretting Manufacturing and Burton Industries. It was apparent that the companies were looking for workers.
“These local businesses opened up a lot of eyes saying hey, we’ve got really good jobs right here,” says Patritto. “We just have to train these kids and make them aware of what’s out there.”
Around this same time, a tech ed teacher retired, and the open position went vacant for a year before it was filled by current metals instructor Jacob Hostetler, who brought along with him experience as a student teacher at Eleva-Strum Central High School, which has an established student-run machine shop business called Cardinal Manufacturing. The possibility of using that model to bring a similar setup to Hurley quickly turned into reality.
“All of a sudden one day at about this time last year everybody started to get on board and get on board fast,” Hostettler says, “and things really started progressing at a really high rate.”
With sizable contributions from the Hurley Board of Education, the Hurley Education Foundation, Ironwood Plastics and other local individuals and entities, the monies were put in a slush fund that totaled roughly $140,000.
The financial contributions allowed for the purchase of all new welding and woodworking equipment needed to teach the skills of today and tomorrow.
“The local industries are saying if we want these kids to really get into the manufacturing and understand the business, they have to learn on the machinery that they’re going to be working with,” says Patritto.
Classes provide hands-on, project based learning, and students put those projects together in the form of a portfolio that includes a competency checklist. They present that list along with a resume and cover letter during an interview, and once accepted into Northwoods Manufacturing, the student-run business, they are given a specific job position.
Related labor is performed using work orders and timecards while following deadlines in order to emulate a business setting. The students will even begin to be paid for their work starting this year.
“Bretting Manufacturing is contracting our kids here at our school to make parts, and Ironwood Plastics is contracting our school to make parts for them, so it’s actually turning into a money-making business,” Patritto says. “The students are pricing things, they’re checking on profit, they’re doing the accounting, they’re checking on orders, so they’re getting a whole real world look at things.”
In addition, field trips have been built into the program to introduce students to local industry. Last year, students took a tour of four local businesses, and this year will kick off the first career day. Hostetler says he’ll be hand-picking a group of students who have been successful with Northwoods Manufacturing thus far, and they will be paired up with local professionals for the day.
“By helping us, they’re helping themselves fill the jobs that they have in this area,” explains Hostettler. “It works out for the schools, the students, and eventually down the line it will help the industry that is helping the schools.”
It is particularly exciting to see the support of students whose talents and skills can be overlooked within a typical school setting, he adds.
“A lot of the kids we have down in the shop are taken for granted on the other side of the building in terms of academics but do fantastic down here,” Hostettler says. “In the right environment with the right people helping them, they can be very successful members of a society and the community.”
The excitement generated by the new program has boosted interest and participation. During the course of the last year and a half, the number of students involved in the industrial arts program has nearly doubled.
“We’ve tried to really communicate to parents and kids that there are so many options out there for jobs,” Patritto says. “You don’t always have to go to a four-year school. There are a lot of opportunities in the tech schools, there are a lot of opportunities in manufacturing, there are a lot of opportunities to get trained right here and go straight to work.
“I think students really need to know what’s out there,” he adds. “There are some that just really want to go to work. They’re not worried about the four-year schools. They don’t want to go to college. They want to get out of school and go make money. Well maybe this – in some way, shape, or form – is a transition for them.”
Looking ahead, Patritto envisions continued growth, including the incorporation of more electronics and engineering.
“We’ve gotten the program off and running,” he says. “What they’re (Hostettler and woods instructor Roger Peterson) doing for our kids is amazing. What they’re doing for our community is amazing. What our community has done for this program is amazing. This went so much quicker than I ever dreamed it would go, and it’s all because of the help we received.”
“It’s exciting to see this school and this community invest in what they have up here,” Hostettler says, adding that he hopes other schools follow suit and bring this type of business-centered approach to the industrial arts. “The kids are invested and everybody’s all in within the community, so the possibilities are pretty much endless.”
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