Northview — Juniors Jayla DeGarmo and Lucan Hubbart donned safety goggles recently and worked together to assemble a snap circuit. When Lucan asked for a lamp socket, Jayla reached into a box of colored components and handed one over.
“These books have instructions that show you how to put together, say, a car alarm, or make a happy birthday tune,” Lucan explained.
Across the room, beyond a table of their classmates completing online modules, senior Niyonni Goree identified types of wrenches, drivers and screws.
Though she claims she’s not technically inclined, Niyonni showed a visitor the workings of the machine operation simulator she was studying beside.
“Believe me, I never thought it would’ve been me,” she said with a grin. “It’s not really interesting to me, but I’m working through it and I’m doing good so far.”
Eyeing a career in cosmetology or interior design, Niyonni observed that the manufacturing lab class is, for her, a better way of learning some core subjects.
“Because it’s hands-on, and you get to work together as a group a lot instead of sitting at a desk, I think it’s easier and not as stressful.”
And after thinking about it for a moment, she admitted that having basic knowledge of tools will probably come in handy.
“I won’t have to call my dad,” she said.
Becoming Skills Bosses
Starting this school year, every student who attends Northview Next’s Career Center spends two days a week for at least one full school year inside a portable classroom at the back of the East Beltline campus.
The 900 square-foot room has been renovated as a manufacturing lab, where seven Amatrol simulating machines line the perimeter walls. Proficiency on the machines and with the online modules will earn students not only science and math credits — and even some English — needed to graduate, but also the option to complete the first level of Smart Automation Certification Alliance attainment, giving them an edge over uncertified manufacturing job seekers.
“We’re really trying to make it look and feel like a work environment, and to make (the lab) feel like part of their work day,” Director Drew Klopcic said. “We understand that not all students will get the credential, but we know they will be learning skills they didn’t have, and they will have come out of their comfort zones and tried something new.”
Lucan is aiming for a career in auto manufacturing or repair, “so I hope this (certification) will help with that,” he said.
Jayla admitted she’s in it for the credits, “but it is fun to learn new things, and to learn about the different equipment and robotics.”
Industry Partnerships Key
Superintendent Scott Korpak said the lab was created using funds from three different sources: the general fund, sinking fund and at-risk funding, because providing the opportunity to earn an industry certification is an incentive to earn a high-school diploma.
For now, students who want to go on to earn certification levels 2 and 3 can expect to be dual-enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College. The hope is to eventually be able to offer that certification right on the Career Center’s campus, Klopcic said.
Though Kent Career Tech Center, just to the south of Northview Next, does offer engineering, manufacturing and industrial technology programs, Klopcic said many Northview Next students don’t meet its credit requirements to attend.
“We also don’t want them to have to wait until their junior and senior year to take the classes,” he said, “so this way, if they love it, they can continue to stack those credentials right up to graduation.”
Manufacturing lab teacher Brian Hendricks, a science teacher at Northview High School before coming to the Career Center, said students are getting basic knowledge they would need “to really work in a lot of different fields, not just manufacturing. When they learn basic circuitry, they’ll be able to apply that even in their own homes. Measurement is a big part too, so again, real-world application right there.”
The manufacturing lab is being developed with tangible support from local industry.
For example, River City Mechanical did all the building’s wiring. Tekton Tools donated to purchase mechanical and assembly tools for students, and students were scheduled in November to tour their Grand Rapids headquarters. Students also have toured Unist in Grand Rapids.
In August, some 40 employers who are part of the West Michigan Manufacturers Council toured the new lab. Klopcic said Amway is providing one staff member to periodically consult and interact with students. On Dec. 2, all Career Center students will tour Amway’s manufacturing facilities in Ada.
“These people are so eager to help our kids,” Klopcic said of the partnerships. “It’s so cool to be able to have them have a passion for showing what they do. They want to reach into this new crop of kids, and what’s nice is we do the intro training, as well as teaching them how important it is to show up and have a good attitude.”
Klopcic said the Career Center may one day expand the manufacturing certification offerings to the community.