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Kathleen Williams column: Wausau schools examine new program aimed at manufacturing sector

11:17 PM, Apr. 2, 2013  |  Comments
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I had an opportunity a few weeks ago to travel to the west side of the state with representatives from numerous school districts (including others from the Wausau School District), the University of Wisconsin Marathon County, Northcentral Technical College and the Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of our trek was to visit a unique program developed at Eleva-Strum High School.

This program has become a highly touted model in the region (if not the nation) whereby students have an opportunity to "own and operate" a manufacturing business while applying skills they have learned in school. In brief, the program really steps up to the plate in terms of helping students become both college and career ready, the mission of all Wisconsin public schools.

ESHS students are responsible for every aspect of the company, including marketing, taking and filling orders, work schedules, making customized products, collecting fees and profit-sharing distributions. What I found most impressive was the students' dedication to their company. The teacher shared with me that on snow days, the students would phone the teacher to open the "shop," so they could work and meet their respective deadlines! Now, that's impressive.

The Wausau School District Technology Education Department has been working on developing its own unique opportunity for students in the form of a "manufacturing business" run through our capstone manufacturing class. Guided by Theran Peterson, technology education teacher, staff members are exploring ways to provide manufacturing services for our local industry and community through a student-run organization.

This experience is certainly somewhat original in the Wausau School District, but the program at Eleva-Strum High School will provide significant assistance, as we forge a new path. Dave Eckmann of the Marathon County Chamber of Commerce has been a driving force behind this initiative locally and has offered to form a consortium of businesses to assist as we pursue the development of this program.

The program is critically important, as numerous jobs in the manufacturing and automotive industry cannot be filled because of a lack of qualified candidates in specific areas, such as welding and mechanics. Stay tuned as the program develops.

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