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Students offered engineering, technology classes

Principal Aaron Harper in front of the main public entrance to East Ridge High School that will open this fall. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)

There are currently enough East Ridge High School students to fill three classes of Introduction to Engineering Design this fall. It's one of the classes that will be part of the school's emphasis on engineering and technology, said Principal Aaron Harper.

East Ridge High School will be accredited next month for Project Lead the Way, a pre-engineering program, Harper said.

The program encourages students to take rigorous academic classes that can earn them college credits if they perform well.

Developed in the '90s by a technology education teacher, Project Lead the Way classes introduce students to engineering theory, computer design and construction.

It gives students skills they will need when they enter the job market even if they don't go into engineering, Harper said. Classes develop critical thinking skills, and students are very interested in them, Harper said.

Students ask teachers why they should learn what we are teaching and what good it will do them. "Our job as educators is to answer that," he said. "How do you take DNA or a theorem in geometry and make them tangible?"

In the specialized classes, students can see, touch, design and construct, he said. While doing so, they learn a lot of math and science without being aware of it.

"We are making school relevant and connecting to the 21st Century," Harper said.

The need for people in the engineering field is great, he said. Companies such as 3M and Marathon Petroleum Co. have many people retiring.

By offering engineering classes in high school, students can explore the field before making a commitment.

While there is no longer a gender gap in math scores between females and males, it's not leading many women into engineering, Harper said.

East Ridge math, science and technology teachers and at least one school counselor will take an intense two-week course to teach the specialized classes. Teachers and staff members will become knowledgeable about the school's focus.

When students complete 85 percent of course requirements and score 70 or above on the final test, they will earn three credits at the University of Minnesota, for a $75 fee.

"As a former science teacher, I've seen what this program offers," said Harper, who was part of the team that brought Project Lead the Way to Bloomington schools.

Project Lead the Way classes will also be taught to all eighth-grade students when middle schools open this fall.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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