Hands-on high school teaches lessons beyond the classroom

Nov. 11, 2010, 11:49 a.m. | By NoahGrace Bauman | 12 years, 10 months ago

Blazers abandon their books for on-the-job training

Senior Samantha Boyd sits in class, waiting to receive her grade on an assignment. Instead of returning an essay or worksheet, Boyd's teacher hands her a design board. Boyd's assignment is an interior design scheme that she will pitch to a client who has recently purchased a home. However, this isn't just an academic exercise - Boyd's design will actually be used to design bedrooms for the client's children. To many Blazers, doing such an activity for school seems like a far-fetched fantasy; but to others, hands-on assignments like this one are just a regular school day occurrence.

A new kind of high school

These Blazers travel about 20 minutes via bus to attend Thomas Edison High School of Technology for two and a half hours, five days a week. Edison is a specialized school that offers 19 specific education programs, which feature a variety of different career opportunities to high school students throughout Montgomery County Public Schools. Students can take classes ranging from Biotechnology to Nail Technology, Architecture to Graphic Design, Masonry to Network Operations.

These classes are designed to introduce students to a specific career through hands on instruction. Edison provides students with an opportunity to get away from the regular high school environment and get a leg up in pursuing their passions.

On the job

Every day, instead of going to first period, Edison's Carpentry students go to a construction site where they work on building a house. Edison's Interior Design students will have the opportunity to stage the house for selling, and students in Edison's Hospitality program will run the open houses. In Edison's Restaurant Management program students open a snack bar; while students in the Cosmetology department get to open their own salon. The snack bar and salon are both at Edison and are often open to the public.

The programs at Edison are one to three years long, depending on the course. Each year counts for three credits, the grades for which are factored into the student's GPA from their home high school. Edison's Interior Design teacher, Denise Fennell, cites that, just because these programs are non-traditional, does not make them easy. The Edison programs are rigorous classes, and some even offer college or AP credit.

Despite the rigorous course work senior Clara Kelly, a student in Edison's Restaurant Management Program, says she appreciates the real-life education aspect of Edison. "We're actually doing things rather than sitting down, being talked at and forced to regurgitate the curriculum,” says Kelly.

Fennell recognizes not only the benefits of hands-on experience, but also the students' commitment to their subjects. "The students are here because they chose the subject. It is not only easier to learn, but easier to teach when everyone is interested in the subject,” says Fennell. Students must apply for Edison and are accepted based on their attendance record and a written paragraph expressing their passion for their preferred subject.

This enriching environment is also a product of Edison's relatively small class sizes. Students say that they receive one-on-one attention at Edison where, according to Fennell, the average class size is about 13-15 students, compared to Blair's average class size of 25 students according to a county report. "You get very close to your teacher; I can talk to [Fennell] about everything,” says Boyd.

Boyd recalls one instance in which Fennell went above and beyond her regular responsibilities. Boyd wanted to sell sweatshirts to help raise funds for the program, but she anticipated her idea being shot down. Instead, Fennell supported her plan and helped her to implement it. "She is really looking out for us,” says Boyd.

Dreams discovered

With all of this extra attention, senior and Restaurant Management student Jeannie Quinn says that attending Edison helped her realize her dream of becoming a chef, without having to shell out unnecessary cash. "Edison definitely helped me realize I wanted to go to culinary school, before I had to spend money to realize what I wanted to do,” says Quinn.

Along with helping students find their passions early on, the program also provides the students with the tools needed to succeed in their chosen profession. "It gives me a step up in getting into college and it's a confidence builder,” says Boyd.

Fennell also reveals the practicality of Edison's program in today's job market. "Whether a student goes to college or not, Edison prepares students for a skill for life. Their existence may depend on using it for their major source of income,” says Fennell.

To many, going to high school to build a house, learn how to make French fries, or design a room may seem unconventional, but to some Blazers, this approach to education puts the fun back in learning

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