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Stewart Students Get a Good Look at Life at NWCTC

Fifth grade doesn’t just mark the end of elementary school in the Burrell School District. According to Dr. Gregory Egnor, it also represents the first step toward a more serious academic experience.

“Fifth grade is a good time for kids to start thinking about what life has in store,” says Egnor, principal at Stewart Elementary School. “In middle school, things ramp up in terms of academics. And in high school you’re getting ready for college and thinking about a career.”

That’s why Egnor believes fifth grade is the ideal time for a program conducted in conjunction with Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center. During the course of four days in December, instructors from each of NWCTC’s 12 programs gave kid-friendly presentations, allowing students to see, for example, how skills learned in the Electronics Technology program might be applied to a career.

“The robotics are always a big hit,” Egnor says of the annual visits from NWCTC instructors and students. “Fifth grade is the youngest we can begin to expose them to these concepts and still have it be effective in the long run.”

In addition to robotics – formally known as Electronics Technology – Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center offers 11 other programs: Auto Mechanics, Carpentry, Commercial Arts, Computer Technology, Cosmetology, Culinary Arts, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning), Machine Tool, Masonry, Health Occupations and Welding. Egnor says that many of those programs fit nicely with Stewart Elementary’s innovative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program.

“One of the efforts in a STEM school is to expose kids to opportunities in science and engineering, to demystify it,” he says. “Scientists are just regular people doing research in different areas. They’re not Albert Einstein behind a couple of beakers. They’re typical people with families who go home and play with their kids.”

Jill Awes is the business/industry liaison for Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center, which is adjacent to Valley High School in New Kensington. She says the hands-on nature of the program keeps the fifth-graders engaged.

“We make it fun,” Awes says. “Our Carpentry instructor, for example, will show the kids all the tools and then show them how to build steps. In Cosmetology, we bring in a bunch of mannequin heads and let the students braid hair.”

Awes adds that teaching kids about career opportunities includes reshaping their perceptions.

“We try to bring nontraditional students with us to speak. For Auto Mechanics, we brought a female student in. We have some girls in welding, in HVAC. So we try to help them see that these fields aren’t necessarily just for guys,” she says.

“We just try to show the kids options so they’ll know what’s available.”

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