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Plasma Cutter Upgrade Latest CTE Addition

Talk of CTE (career technical education, or what used to be called "vocational" education) is all the rage in educational circles these days as schools work to better prepare students for careers. But CTE is not new to Springfield Public Schools - in fact, it has been thriving.
 
Springfield High offers metal and wood shop, automotive repair, drafting and business classes, including a new, largely donation-funded graphic design program. Thurston High has many of the same classes, minus automotive but adding early childhood education (with hands-on experience available in the school's for-profit preschool) and culinary classes. Both schools have been experimenting with school to work programs and apprenticeships to give students even more opportunities to practice their skills in area businesses.
 
Needed updates: Both schools got a big boost from the 2014 bond measure, updating shop equipment that had been in place for years and bringing the programs into the 21st century. At Thurston, bond funds were used to purchase a 3D printer, a laser cutter, two desktop routers and a large router - all computer-controlled - in addition to three lathes, a hydraulic shear and tooling for mills.
 
Polly Kohl Polly Kohl grant Enter: SEF
Most recently, Thurston metals and robotics teacher Polly Kohl (left) received grant funding from the Springfield Education Foundation to improve ventilation and safety for its existing plasma cutter, a programmable machine used in metal fabrication. Kohl said the plasma cutter has been used for a variety of projects over the years, both in the school and in the community, and the upgrades will allow the machine to be incorporated into the curriculum. For example, the school is planning a digital design class that will incorporate all of the new and existing computer-controlled equipment. Kohl said she feels that being able to offer a high-tech machine to entry-level students might inspire them to continue on with more CTE classes for deeper learning.
 
Kohl, who has a long-term goal of engaging more girls in engineering and technical fields, hopes the tool's potential for artistic applications might help engage more girls.
 
"The plasma cutter opens the shop door to the A in STEAM, sparking student creativity with projects that can be designed and fabricated," she said.
 
Kohl said she hopes to spark girls' interest even earlier than 9th grade by introducing them to the plasma cutter this spring during the after-school GEMS program (Girls Engineering in Middle School) - which also receives funding from the Springfield Education Foundation.
 
"By high school, many girls have already decided what is or is not an appropriate activity for girls," Kohl added. "We want to light the fire before their biases are set."
 
Kohl noted that the school is also working on creating an online store to sell products fabricated by the students, with the proceeds going back into the program.
 
Thank you, SEF, for making our great programs even better!
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