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Kids catapult into learning

It’s a long way from a textbook to real-life application of anything, and that’s the impetus behind Sierra College’s Tech-Explorer program.

The one-day class taken to Nevada and Placer County schools is designed to use math and science skills in a real way by producing small catapults. The hope is the experience will create a local work force to fill the manufacturing and technical jobs found in both counties.

Last week, the program stopped at Chicago Park School, where middle school students were busy drilling holes, filing parts and putting together catapults for a competition that ends the day.

Although it took a few tries to drill holes in a strip of metal for her catapult, seventh grader Drew Fetzer was happy with the outcome.

“It’s great to learn how to use tools,” said Fetzer, who had only used a drill press once before.

“It’s good for kids to learn about construction,” said eighth grader Elliott Fournier. “It’s also fun to learn about the catapult and all the parts in it.”

“The whole idea is applied academics,” said Karen Fraser-Middleton, a Tech-Explorer trainer for the college. “They use a protractor to make sure they have the right angle and many of these kids have not been exposed to tools.”

The program is funded through a grant from the California Community College chancellor’s office, according to Sandra Scott, leader of the college’s Workforce Development division.

“Our vision is to engage all students in applied learning and encourage them to pursue classes now, in high school and later at Sierra College that can lead to rewarding technical careers,” Scott said. “Developing their interest in middle school can give them an edge in determining their future.”

“It’s got the kids engaged,” said Chicago Park School math and science teacher Joanne Ramey. “They’re learning stuff they can use and it fits well with my force and energy chapter that we just completed.”

“It encourages students to realize they really do use their science and math skills in the real world,” said Valaine Hoffmann, the program director.

“Not every kid is an audio learner,” Hoffmann said. “I was in special-ed in the ’50s because I had to be doing something when I learned.

“A lot of students aren’t lecture learners who need to see how these skills relate to every day life. A lot of the boys have never used a hacksaw.”

Although the program is designed to stimulate local jobs, the life lessons learned are also important, Hoffmann said.

“Everything is made for us now, kids think i-Pods grow on trees and it doesn’t occur to them to fix things, they just buy another,” Hoffmann said.

“These skills will be invaluable and we have to develop a work force for the maintenance and repair of the technology we’re creating like ATMs and hospital machines.

“We may be looking at the future engineers of the world who may not have had the opportunity to learn these things otherwise,”

School principal Dan Zeisler was glad to see the hands-on experience come to the students.

“We need more of this, this will change lives,” he said. “This will affect what classes they sign up for in high school, It’s really amazing how engaged they are.

“My philosophy is that learning must take place beyond the four walls of the classroom.”

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.