THS, TMS program helps students get prepared

By EMMA CARY | Special to the Reporter

ALABASTER – Thompson High and Middle schools are providing the opportunity to enroll in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, which helps prepare students for real-life industry and college experience.

Dr. Amanda Wilbanks, the coordinator of secondary curriculum and overseer of all CTE programs, said the goal for students is to gain experience in specified classes that translates to more success and enjoyment in college and industry.

The program is designed to help high school and middle school students learn more about their desired industry, while also giving valuable experience, certifications and partnerships with local companies.

“Our vision in Alabaster is to make students champions of their future, and I think the career and technical program here really allows them to be champions of their future,” Wilbanks said. “They are prepared going forward, whether they go right into the workforce or they go on to college.”

Because the academies seek to include students of every interest, Thompson offers 14 different CTE programs, two of them starting in eighth grade. The Engineering and Computer Science pathways are two of the largest the school has to offer.

Director of Engineering DJ Strickland previously worked as a Professional Engineer for a local company in Birmingham and helps lead the class. Because of his experience in the field, he is able to help students grow in their knowledge of the industry and set realistic expectations for college courses.

Strickland recalled his time as an engineering student at Auburn University was a struggle for him because he did not feel prepared. There was a lot about engineering that he didn’t know to expect. After working in the industry for seven years, he felt the call to become a teacher. He felt drawn to help high school students who are interested in engineering so he could give them a better, more prepared experience than he had.

“Our ‘Why Statement’ for the academies is to provide an authentic environment to help students develop the skills and mindset to pursue opportunity with confidence,” Strickland said. “We crafted that very deliberately. As much as possible, we want [these programs] to be the things they will do in college.”

In the Engineering academy, the students get the opportunity to learn and be certified in SolidWorks. SolidWorks is a design software that engineers use in college and industry.

The intention behind mimicking college is to help the students grow in confidence. When they graduate on to college or the workforce, they will not only be prepared, but they will be more confident in themselves.

Apart from gaining college or real-world experience in classes, the students also get to work on certifications, projects and local partnerships. The engineering and computer science students collaborate at the end of senior year to work on a Capstone design course.

Dr. Spencer D. Stone, director of computer science, said the Capstone course will have the students bring a real-world problem to class and use what they have learned in class to pitch a solution. If the project is approved, they build and model it.

In the Computer Science academy, Stone said students get the opportunity to learn coding languages, like Python Programming.

“[Python] is an industry credential that can be added to their resumes as early as sophomore year,” Stone said. “For the students who either want to defer college or don’t want to go to college, they can go into the workforce and immediately have a leg up on competition.”

If a student’s schedule does not allow for CS courses, Thompson has a Technology Student Association (TSA) club, a nationwide student organization that teaches technology and science, that students can join as an extracurricular activity.

Strickland said one of the best parts of the academies is that it gives the students a safe place to grow, make mistakes and learn the material.

“In engineering and in all the academies, we are trying to teach the students upper levels things,” Strickland said. “It’s not easy, but one of the biggest benefits is when students handle difficult concepts and walk out in confidence.”

The program requires no application and accepts all Thompson students who are interested. These classes coincide with the core curriculum Thompson requires. Students interested in a CTE academy can take up to three elective courses, alongside the four core classes. These classes can begin in Eighth grade, which has two academies, and continue through high school, which has 12 other academies.

“The CTE program is so appealing to so many kids because it gives them a sample of what work or college would be like,” Wilbanks said. “We want parents and students to understand that we do have something for everyone. Whether it be academics, career and technical or dual enrollment, there is something for everyone at Thompson High School.”