Project Lead the Way has brought welcome visibility to the rigor of career and technical education.
The nonprofit organization developed its "Pathway to Engineering" curriculum to spark interest in engineering, computer science and manufacturing careers among U.S. middle and high school students.
If you goWhat: Open House at the Technology Center of DuPage
When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20
Where: Technology Center of DuPage, 301 S. Swift Road, Addison
The program includes two foundation courses, one specialized course, and a capstone course in which students use what they have learned to develop a solution to a complex problem.
In 2010, Technology Center of DuPage was the first DuPage high school facility to offer PLTW. TCD is the advanced CTE center jointly operated by 14 DuPage area school districts through their participation in the DuPage Area Occupational Education System.
After the program's implementation, it was evident this hands-on, innovative curriculum was generating excitement among students. Several DAOES member districts decided to team with PLTW themselves to offer "Pathway to Engineering" foundation courses at their own high schools.
So what happens when districts served by their shared area career center decide to offer the same program?
Let me first provide some background on how Illinois delivers CTE to its students. State and federal funds for CTE programs are distributed to school districts and career centers through 57 Education for Employment systems. DAOES serves that function for our region.
DAOES is founded on an intergovernmental agreement among 13 school districts in DuPage County and one district from Cook County. Its mission is to help students understand and prepare for career opportunities by providing high quality CTE programs both within the participating districts and through Technology Center of DuPage.
TCD is not an independent school but an elective part of 24 high schools in DuPage County and Lyons Township. It was designed as a centralized, cost-effective means to provide advanced CTE electives to the juniors and seniors of its member districts. These electives offer students both high school and college credit, as well as career-related credentials.
It is overseen by the DAOES board of directors. DAOES board members are high school district administrators appointed by their individual school boards. They meet the third Thursday of each month at TCD.
The DAOES board plans and coordinates the CTE programs in its member districts, has operational responsibilities for Technology Center of DuPage, and employs a full-time DAOES director.
The director provides system leadership by developing plans, programs and procedures needed to implement board policies and direct the day-to-day operations of DAOES.
With funding for hundreds of CTE classes on the line, the DAOES board and its director work to foster a student-centered, complementary and integrated approach to the development of new CTE programs.
Duplication of programs, though not prohibited, is discouraged to limit competition for student enrollment. A compromise some schools employ is requiring that students take an introductory CTE class at their building as a prerequisite to enrollment in the corresponding advanced elective at TCD.
So how do TCD and its member districts handle their shared enthusiasm for PLTW? The answer is collaboration.
The advanced courses in the PLTW sequence require expensive equipment such as large-capacity 3-D printers; a wind tunnel or other product-testing technology; robotic technology; and machining equipment -- all of which are already available at Technology Center of DuPage.
Therefore, students who have completed the foundational PLTW courses at their high schools are encouraged to take the specialized and capstone courses at TCD.
In addition, though designed as a four-year program for ninth through 12th grades, "Pathway to Engineering" at TCD can be completed in two years thanks to TCD's longer class time (two hours vs. the traditional 50-minute length).
The ability to accelerate completion of the PLTW sequence at TCD is ideal for many schedule-crunched high school students.
In the end, instead of competing for students, TCD and member districts are working together to offer greater flexibility in scheduling and maximum opportunities for students interested in pursuing their career interests.
We invite the DuPage community to visit TCD during our Open House from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20.
• Alf Logan is the interim director for the DuPage Area Occupational Education System. The board of directors has been searching for a new director to replace James Thorne, who left in July. The board expects to announce the new DAOES director before the end of the school year.