It’s called ET3 — Engineering, Technology and Trades on Tuesdays — and it provides Double Churches Middle School students hands-on sessions to learn valuable skills that might lead to secure jobs.
ET3 grew out of the relationship the school has with Pratt & Whitney, which overhauls airplane engines at its Columbus Engine Center and forges and finishes disks and blades for engines at its Columbus Forge facility.
“We were looking for a way to go beyond the typical,” said Double Churches principal Craig Fitts, “to utilize what they have and try to expose our kids to potential skilled labor careers.”
Columbus Technical College also is involved in the program.
“It’s letting them know about their options, what’s available in the workplace,” said Jim McNair, dean of Columbus Tech’s professional and technical studies division.
Machinist jobs, according to various salary websites, pay an average of about $40,000 per year.
Approximately 240 students in grades 6-8 who take the technology or business and computer science electives rotate through ET3 each month at the 470-student school, said Double Churches literacy coach Kim Cason. They begin by reading an article about the subject and discussing it with technology teacher Chris Lovelock or business and computer science teacher Star Wallace to prepare for the day when they go through the hands-on stations.
Last month, ET3 launched with sessions about welding. This time, the focus was on the Computer Numerical Control machine. The students made 2-by-2 inch aluminum blanks, which could be used as a spacer or a nut in a machine but ended up being souvenirs when they stamped their initials on them.
At Station 1, the students learned about various machining career pathways. At Station 2, they learned measuring and layout skills on a Digital Height Gage and a Granite Surface Plate. At Station 3, they learned hacksaw and filing techniques. At Station 4, they learned how to drill and thread a hole.
“You get a lot of lessons from that one simple part,” McNair said.
Although a computerized machine can make the part in 40 seconds, the students benefit from making their parts in 30 minutes by hand. Tim Vinson, the Muscogee County School District’s youth apprenticeship coordinator, explained why.
“Skills sets are still needed,” Vinson said. “If I’m a small shop and not a Pratt & Whitney, I might have to do all the steps.”
Vinson acknowledged the “wow” factor is another key to ET3.
“It’s about eye candy and having fun,” he said with a smile, “and then you start learning.”
Just ask Double Churches eighth-graders Jamiya Jackson and Jhalil Parker.
“You get to learn how to do different things so you have job opportunities,” said Jamiya, 13. “I like how you can use the machines to make different things that are useful.”
“If an airplane needs a part,” said Jhalil, 14, “I could help them.”
Jamiya wants to become a lawyer, and Jhalil’s goal is to play in the NBA, but they still consider ET3 worthwhile because it helps them to think of a backup plan.
“If being a lawyer doesn’t turn out,” Jamiya said, “then I can always turn to this because I had this experience.”
“If I don’t make it to the NBA,” Jhalil said, “this could be another job for me.”
ET3 also has a literacy component. The students write a summary of their experience and create an infographic to display it.
“We want all our students to be well versed in communication skills,” Cason said. “Our goal is to be better readers, writers and critical thinkers.”
The students even write thank-you notes to the guest instructors.
“It’s part of communicating in business and teaching them appropriate behavior in society,” Wallace said.
Vinson said he hopes to implement program at each of the district’s 12 middle schools.
“This is a pilot program,” Vinson said. “We’re just working through the logistics to make it right.”
It’s important to not wait until high school for a program like this, Vinson said.
“Typically, as they exit eighth grade, they’re making career decisions,” Vinson said.
Representatives from Georgia Power and a construction company also will visit the program to teach the students skills related to their jobs.
“With the skills gap the workforce is trying to overcome, and with the Baby Boomers retiring leaving an even bigger gap, we know that we need to make our students aware of all careers,” Vinson said.
“The kids love it,” Cason said. “They really do. They look forward to it. They want to know when they’re coming back.”
In an email to the Ledger-Enquirer from Pratt & Whitney workforce development and training manager Janeen Tucker, Columbus Engine Center general manager Tom Bode said, “There are so many STEM career pathways available for students who want to work with high-tech computers and machines, and the ET3 program provides them with the hands-on learning to understand what is involved with CNC programming.”
Pratt & Whitney Columbus Forge general manager Keith Bagley said in the email, “We at Pratt & Whitney and our Partner in Education, Double Churches Middle School, hope programs like this will inspire students interested in STEM careers to pursue STEM manufacturing opportunities available throughout our region.”