HAMMOND — Five years ago, George Rogers Clark High School administrators joined forces with the state and Conexus Indiana, its manufacturing and logistics initiative, to implement new elective courses to help students become job-ready.
“The advanced manufacturing and logistics course of study was identified as a high-need area not only for Northwest Indiana but across the country,” said Theresa Mayerik, assistant superintendent of Hammond schools.
In late August, Conexus Indiana honored Clark High with its 2016 Conexus Indiana Hire Tech Legacy Award, recognizing its successful strategy to grow the Hire Tech workforce development program and supporting student success.
“When the Indiana Department of Education and Conexus Indiana approached our district to be a pilot site for the advanced manufacturing and logistics (classes), we identified Clark as a possible host site,” Mayerik said.
The rest is history, she said.
“Since that time not only have we developed and implemented the program at Clark, but we also serve as a model program for districts in Indiana and other states,” she said.
Conexus Indiana created the two-year Hire Tech curriculum in partnership with Ivy Tech Community College, with support from the Indiana Department of Education.
“As a result of the pilot, we received our initial equipment for the program from Conexus. The School City of Hammond continues to support this program through general funding, Title I and Title II funding,” she said.
The classroom instruction is paired with experiences with local industry partners, called Conexus A+ Partners, who work with local area high schools to implement the curriculum that provides students real-world experiences and opportunities in advanced manufacturing and logistics. There now are 177 schools involved.
Clark Principal Robert Wilson has been a strong supporter of Hire Tech and works closely with classroom teacher Jim Bryant.
Clark has a total enrollment of 1,355 students in sixth through 12th grade. Of that number, nearly 100 are enrolled in the Hire Tech classes.
College credits, industry certification
The class is a dual credit course, allowing students to receive college credits.
“Many of our kids are struggling in an urban area, looking for what is in their future. Hire Tech gave them an answer,” Wilson said, adding that 84 percent of the students earn six credits and industry certification.
He said many of the students have gone on to college and earned a better scholarship because of their Hire Tech background.
Bryant said they show students and parents how technology has changed manufacturing and logistics, and he said it’s another path to success for students.
“Students who take Hire Tech are enrolled in Ivy Tech Community College, so I try to give the class a college-type atmosphere,” he said.
“They have an opportunity to earn the college credits and industry certification. They take ownership of the projects, of their lessons and of the room.”
However, Wilson and Bryant said the biggest roadblock has been finding industry partners to give students an opportunity to work and apply their skills.
“There would be financial benefit to the partners, because Conexus will subsidize the student workers,” Wilson said.
“Some of them have had concerns about their insurance and liability. We have been talking to some local companies but it’s still in the infancy stages.”
Bryant said instructors can tailor the course of instruction to local industry needs. “For example, if Lever Brothers down the road had something specific they wanted students to learn, we could focus on that. We need local industry to participate with us,” he said.
Raquel Haro, 19, of Hammond, graduated from Clark in 2015 and now is a sophomore at Valparaiso University majoring in electrical engineering. She took the advanced manufacturing and logistics classes in her sophomore and junior years in high school.
“I learned a lot about the manufacturing process and what it takes to build a company and the logistics,” she said.
“During interviews that I’ve had for a couple of jobs, I’ve mentioned the certifications that I earned at Clark and they were very impressed, especially by the fact that I earned those certifications while in high school.”