Prep schools: Students get hands-on experience in 4 critical local industries

Charleston Post and Courier
Allyson Bird
October 11, 2010

Beyond “Romeo and Juliet” and the Pythagorean theorem, students in local high schools can learn how to program robots and bake the perfect pie crust these days.

Industry-relevant classes teach skills that businesses seek in their future employees. And students catch buses from their own high schools to seek out instructors with the most expertise in their districts.

As 17-year-old Lawrence Smith, a West Ashley High School maritime student, put it: “I want to get hired on the spot.”

Here’s a peek into a few of those classrooms.

Sports medicine

Sergio Rojas, a 17-year-old sophomore at Goose Creek High School, lies prostrate on the classroom floor as five other students gather around.

Carefully, they lift him onto a blue spine board and secure his neck.

“We’re constantly monitoring what?” coach Ernie Drews asks. “ABCs! What’s that?”

The students call back: airway, breathing, circulation.

They practice in the Sports Medicine II class skills that they take to the fields on Friday nights and weekends, monitoring the school’s athletes and practicing for possible careers.

“They’re my eyes and ears on the field,” says Drews, a certified athletic trainer who works with all the school’s teams. “If something happens, I have someone who’s able to help and know how severe it is.”

The students lift Rojas from the floor as Drews calls out, “Remember to bend with your knees to avoid back injury.”

Goose Creek High added this second-level class to its offerings five years ago so students could delve deeper into anatomy, physiology and rescue. Seven out of 10 kids in the classroom one recent Monday say they plan to pursue jobs in the field.

One of them, 16-year-old India Green, had her moment when she watched a football player fall out during a recent game. After studying sickle cell anemia in Drews’ class, she knew what had happened and how to respond.


Chef Carl Calvert’s culinary class at Stratford High School runs a little like the Fox reality show “Hell’s Kitchen.”

“Nobody eats the doggone parchment!” he warns the group of wide-eyed teenagers, some of whom truck over from schools across Berkeley County to make it to his afternoon class. The former Johnson & Wales University instructor teaches the same class at Trident Technical College, except those older students get 4 1/2 hours to complete what these kids do in an hour and a half.

On this particular day, Calvert’s students, all dressed in chef’s jackets and with their hair pulled out of their faces, prepare cheesy rolls and then move on to a pie crust in a lab decked out with top-of-the-line cooking equipment. One-third of them will go to culinary school, he said.

“This is no different than any restaurant kitchen you’ll see downtown,” Calvert says. “This is not home ec.”

The state health department visits three times a year, and Calvert proudly displays his “A” rating outside the classroom.

Kadi Dubs, a 17-year-old senior from Goose Creek High, signed up for the class at her guidance counselor’s suggestion. With three years of restaurant experience already, Dubs wants to get a degree in cooking with a minor in business management after graduation in hopes that she can one day open her own business.

As the students finish their rolls, Calvert tells them, “You did nice work.”
School talk

The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Education Foundation holds its annual Business Education Summit 7:30-11 a.m. Oct. 27 at Trident Technical College. The annual event draws hundreds of business, community and education leaders. The 2010 theme is “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education: Keys to Our Future Workforce.” BAE Systems government affairs director Susan Lavrakas will give the keynote address.

A few kids patting themselves on the back hear Calvert correct them: “I said ‘nice.’ I didn’t say ‘exceptional.’ Nice guys finish last.”

Maritime science

Jaws drop when Commander Rob Turner tells the small class how much money they can make working on ships, even right out of school.

Looking at the daily pay on the overhead projector as one boy clicks away on a calculator, the students whisper, “That’s how much I make in a week!”

Turner’s maritime science class at West Ashley High School marks the first curriculum in the area that teaches students about the important and lucrative work available in port cities such as Charleston.

The students already have toured a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship and a tugboat, and Turner hopes to show them the State Ports Authority’s facilities and Detyens Shipyards before the semester ends.

Both of Daryl Higginbotham’s parents work in the maritime industry, and without hesitation, the 15-year-old sophomore says he hopes to one day captain a ship.

“I want to go in as an ordinary seaman and work my way up,” Higginbotham says.

That’s why he registered for Turner’s class.

Turner, a retired Navy serviceman, teaches his students about the criminal background checks and the drug testing that comes with waterfront work. Turner also explains the perils of those jobs.

“It’s arduous duty,” he says. “You’re away from your family and friends for six months out of the year.”

Turner hopes to grow the maritime program into a three-year curriculum so students can transition straight to job sites.

“The drive is there. The push is there. We will get there,” he says.

Aeronautical engineering

Cherelle Backman decided at age 7 that she wanted to be something that would’ve befuddled most of her sandbox contemporaries back then: an aeronautical engineer.

“I like airplanes,” the 18-year-old West Ashley High School student says. “I’ve never been in one, but I like airplanes.”

So Backman misses her first two classes to catch a bus up to Stall High School to take Paul Harper’s introduction to aeronautical studies class every day.

In a recent session, students learned about circuits and prepared for a future assignment: building and programming an intelligent robot. Every Friday, they hear from a guest speaker who works in the industry.

Aerospace giant Boeing Co. gave the Charleston County School District a $50,000 grant to train teachers for the program. Harper looks to Wando High School engineering teacher David Roemer, who developed a successful program at the Mount Pleasant school, as a mentor.

One of Harper’s students, 17-year-old Nicholas Gadson, said he liked to take apart and put back together his remote-controlled cars as a little boy. He hopes to work on bigger engines after high school.

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