Bringing Industry Into the Classroom

Local high schools vary in their attempts to prepare students for the workforce.
Timothy Dunford
The Gayle and Tom Benson Science and Technology Complex at St. Mary’s Dominican High School incorporates form and function with details reflecting the school’s 156-year legacy and its Irish roots.

Educators across Southeast Louisiana are implementing a variety of tools to make sure our area students have what it takes to make it in life. Biz New Orleans took a look at what some of the most established schools in New Orleans are doing to prepare the next generation of our city’s workforce.

Educating for the Business World

Garrett Mason, director of innovation and design at St. Martin’s Episcopal School, says the school is flipping the traditional classroom “on its head” with its recently added Innovation and Design Program and the new Gibbs Family Center for Innovation and Design, which includes a build shop, a wood shop, a production studio and media center with breakout classrooms.

The program enables students to take a ‘hands-on’ approach while learning skills they can use on any job.

In creating the Innovation and Design program, Head of School Merry Sorrells spoke with CEOs as part of the school’s research into which skills and mindsets are most valuable in the business world.

“What we have found is that collaboration is No. 1 and problem solving is No. 2,” Mason said. “The classes we offer are highly engaging. The students themselves are actually doing problem solving and applying what they’re learning instead of sitting and being passive recipients of information.”

St. Martin’s Episcopal School’s new Gibbs Family Innovation and Design center includes a build shop, wood shop, a production studio and media center with breakout classrooms — offering students the opportunity to receive hands-on experience in a wide variety of careers.

With a 100 percent high school graduation rate, Sorrells feels the education students receive at St. Martin’s will not only prepare them for a four-year college, but also for life.

 “We are teaching them critical thinking and problem solving,” she said. “We also give students a spiritual foundation as an Episcopal school, which I think is becoming more and more rare.”

Strides in Science

At St. Mary’s Dominican High School, President Dr. Cynthia A. Thomas notes three traits that make the girls at St. Mary’s ready for whatever career path they choose.

“They have the rigor, they have the discipline, and they stick with projects,” she said. “They aren’t going to say ‘Oh this is too hard’ because they have been through a hard academic program. Also …you need to be in groups and learn from one another through collaboration.”

The school added a huge resource for study and collaboration this year with the dedication of the Gayle and Tom Benson Science and Technology Complex on April 22. The $10 million, 16,940-square-foot complex includes state-of-the-art science classrooms and labs, the Ermina Wadswoth/Azby Fund Technology Center and the “technology free” meeting space, the Disputatio Room.

St. Mary’s Dominican High School students work on a project by the Disputatio Room, on the second floor, directly above the Adoration Chapel. The Disputatio Room is a dedicated place where students, faculty, alumnae, visiting educators and professionals come together for in-depth discussions integrating faith and reason. Photo St. Mary’s Dominican High School

As part of the rigorous studying and discipline program, Matthew Foss, physics teacher and science department chair, said the school is also working on improving ACT test scores through the new complex. The science portion of the exam tests a student’s ability to think and act like a scientist.

“What we are doing this year is designing some labs that mimic the labs that they read about on the ACT,” Foss said.

Engineering the Future

Students at Lusher Charter School are completing an advanced curriculum in engineering, science and art, which prepares them for college and the career of their choice.

Through Project Lead the Way, students get four years of intense engineering classes, principal Wiley Ates said.

“What the course does is prepare them academically and gives them a lot of experience, but it also lets them know what’s required to be successful in the field,” Ates said. “By the time they have gone through the rigorous program, they know whether they have the desire and background they need to be successful in an engineering school.”

The school also has a biomedical program — now in its second year — that Ates said offers a pathway into various professions in the workforce relating to medicine and research.

Students with a bent more toward art can be a part of Lusher’s four-year Certificate of Artistry Program.

Director of College Counseling Sam Wagner said graduates are fully prepared to attend any college they wish. Members of last year’s graduating class were accepted to colleges in 24 states and four countries.

Financial Literacy from the Real World

Girls at the Academy of the Scared Heart are learning the ins and outs of the business world through a new Mathematics and Financial Literacy class.

The class is being taught by the owner of PJ’s Coffee on Magazine Street, Aubry Miller, who is sharing her wisdom with seniors both in the classroom and at her place of business.

“We just started the class this year — it’s very exciting,” Miller said. “The girls were required to take an online course over the summer sponsored by IberiaBank, and it taught them about personal finances, and it taught them about business finances as well.”

The purpose of the online course, Miller said, was to give girls background knowledge before the Mathematics Financial Literacy class began.

For the class, girls must work a certain amount of shifts a month at the coffee shop.

“The girls will do their shifts with one of my employees so it’s more of a learning experience. It’s not really about them manning the store,” Miller said. “(In the classroom) every week has a different topic, so we’ll go from leases to insurance, real estate, taxes, payroll, and hiring and firing. We’ll also have guest speakers come throughout the year.”

At the end of the year, the girls will be required to submit a business plan on their dream coffee shop. “In the end, it’s their creation,” Miller said. “I wanted them to take the business plan with them so that after Scared Heart, if they do find themselves in the position to be an entrepreneur, they can reference it.”

Teaching with Technology

Holy Cross School Director of Public Affairs, Shelly Raynal, said every student enrolled in the school uses some sort of technology to further their education and prepare them for college and then the workforce.

“For our younger students, pre-K through fourth grade, they all use iPads,” Raynal said. “Our fifth- through 12th-graders use the one-to-one laptop program.”

 With the iPads and laptops, students are able to upload projects and papers to teachers who can view them online.

“Other schools have laptops but have a B.Y.O.D. or ‘bring your own device’ type of thing,” she said. “(At Holy Cross) we provide those laptops for our students. Students turn them in at the end of the school year. They are all wiped clean, reformatted and updated with the newest version of programs.”

Brother Martin High School is one of the schools with a bring your own device policy. Technology Coordinator and Computer Science Department Chair, Craig Zeller, said students use their devices to take notes, access electronic textbooks and for organizational purposes, while staying in contact with their teachers though email or through the school’s learning management system.

Zeller said his goal in working with the students is to have them become fluent in technology.

 “If you can troubleshoot your own device and understand why it’s not working, you can help other people, either as a professional or just as a friendly neighbor.”

Leadership and Professionalism

Through the St. Francis Borgia Leadership Institute, students at Jesuit High School are getting the leadership skills they will need to be successful in life, according to Jeremy Reuther, Jesuit’s director of communications.

“Some years we will do a leadership retreat at the beginning of the year, where we invite the students in leadership positions in different organizations or clubs and teams to come and do leadership formation,” Reuther said. “We are teaching them the virtues of being a leader.”

An annual career day also allows Jesuit students to interact with professionals in the workforce. Reuther said the school brings in 30 to 40 different alumni in different professions to meet with upperclassmen. Juniors and seniors meet with alumni to listen to a half-hour presentation on their respective careers, while younger students get a general presentation from one of the alumni to make sure every student at Jesuit has the opportunity to hear about different careers.

Jesuit High School students in their Biology II AP class participate in a DNA Electrophoresis lab led by a visiting alumnus. Students compared DNA samples similar to the way CSI labs use DNA fingerprints to help determine guilt or innocence.

Girls at Ursuline Academy also have the opportunity to speak with professionals during their own career day and as part of the school’s shadow program. Communications Director Katharine Uhle said the school brings in between 30 and 50 parents, alums and community volunteers to speak with students. Through the shadow program, students have the opportunity to work alongside professionals, gaining insight into potential careers.

“Last year we had about 60 out of our 80 graduates that were linked up with a mentor,” Uhle said. “They got to go to the person’s place of employment to learn what it’s like in their business.”

Ulhe said the students enjoyed being able to work with a mentor in a professional setting as opposed to having someone come to just speak with them.

“Ursuline as a whole has put out some pretty amazing women in the business world,” Uhle said. “We’ve got the first female district attorney in New Orleans who is an Ursuline grad. We had a former U.S. senator and the chief officer for GE, who is also the president of the GE foundation. We’ve got women all over the place.”

Doing Double Duty

15 local high school students also graduate with certification from Delgado.

This past spring, 15 students from New Orleans earned their high school degrees while simultaneously earning a Certificate of Technical Studies (CTS) after attending a Technical Skills Expo (TSE) hosted by Delgado Community College.

Graduates included eight students from Grace King High School in Metairie and seven from Warren Easton Charter High School that have become known as the “Super Seven.”

Beginning in their junior year, the students attended both high school classes and courses at Delgado courses.

“I am proud of my classmates because we’re African-American men and a lot of us are only looked at like a negative statistic,” said Jamon Williams, a Super Seven graduate. “I feel like we made history.”

Within two days, the students received their high school diplomas and earned CTS credentials in residential electricity from Delgado.

Since graduation, many of the students have secured employment in the local workforce, including jobs at Uptown PMR and Dimitri Dermatology and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Others are enrolled in advanced training programs at University of New Orleans, Delgado Community College and University of Louisiana Lafayette.



Categories: Education, Technology, The Magazine