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Governor Ricketts Tours HMS Skilled Sciences Programs image

Governor Ricketts Tours HMS Skilled Sciences Programs

Please check out the Tiger Cub Online for the story on Governor Rickett's visit to the high school.
                       Photos courtesy of the Hastings Tribune

“Eye of the Tiger” played as Gov. Pete Ricketts entered the Hastings Middle School to the cheers of the eighth grade class Friday  morning. Ricketts and a group of dignitaries visited both the middle and high school as part of his National Manufacturing Day tour across the state.

“We are talking about manufacturing and how important it is to Nebraska,” Ricketts said. “It is our second largest industry and employs over 96,000 people, about 10 percent of our workforce, and they’re great-paying jobs.”

At the middle school, Ricketts’ focus was on the skills and technical sciences area there that was expanded and improved over the summer through the use of Developing Youth Talent Initiative grant dollars received through the state of Nebraska.

Through the grant, the middle school was able to purchase new equipment, add additional classes and create greater education at both the seventh- and eighth- grade level for students.

“This is exactly what we were hoping would happen,” Ricketts said after his middle school tour. “(The goal was) that we would give the kids the opportunity to explore this and carry it on into the high school.”

Accompanying Ricketts on his visit were Courtney Dentlinger, director of the Department of Economic Development; Nebraska Labor Commissioner John Albin; and Barry Kennedy, president of the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

After shaking hands with eighth-graders upon entering the middle school, the group, which was accompanied by many local manufacturers, moved on to the skilled and technical sciences area.

Ricketts stopped to meet with three eighth-graders who explained what they do in the robotics class. 

“He asked us what they did and what we were doing and what the class was and if it was part of the program he was checking out,” said Laynee Johnson.

“We showed him our robotics,” said Lauren Hinrichs. “They’ve been giving us tasks to complete and we had to program them with C coding to make them do what we want them to do.”

Inside the classroom, teacher Michael Trindle gave the governor and other dignitaries a tour of the computer module areas, including one stop with a student who was using a program connected to a 3-D printer.

“At the seventh-grade level, it’s more about that exposure and then we take them into that next level where they start designing more things,” Trindle explained.

All seventh-graders spend half a semester in the skilled and technical sciences area where they are given a short introduction to the four areas of manufacturing, drafting and design, construction and transportation.

In eighth grade, students have the opportunity to take classes in some of those areas. There is a semester-long class in the classroom where they get more computer experience.

Then, there’s the robotics class, which, due to the grant, now has two sections allowing for more students to take part. Robotics is a one-semester class.

The single-semester construction class allows students to focus in the area of woodworking.

The only year-long class gives students exposure to all four areas of the skilled and technical sciences.

“We feel at least middle school-wise, we’re leading the way in the region,” Trindle said. “For right now, what we are offering is head over anything else in the area.”

He said many schools, including Grand Island Public Schools, have been forced to shut down their middle school programs due to staffing and other costs.

Ricketts asked how Grand Island can operate its career academy without having a middle school program.

Trindle said that students get the introductory classes as freshmen and sophomores before going to the career acad- emy, which is off-campus away from the high school.

He said Hastings Public Schools has stuck with career pathways programs within the high school building rather than a career academy because the district doesn’t want to take students away from other high school opportunities.

The biggest benefit of the middle school program, Trindle said, is that students get exposure to the technical sciences at a younger age so if they want to pursue it they can jump into those classes right away as freshmen.

Through the grant, the district was able to purchase eight welding stations where students can get exposure to oxy acetylene, mig and arc welding, along with numerous lathes, drafting tables and other equipment.

Trindle said that much of what students are learning in that year-long course comes from a freshman class.

“I really like that you’re bringing it all in at the middle school level. That’s a really good move,” Albin said.

Trindle said the original plan was to change the freshmen coursework to teach each of the four areas.

“Then we said, ‘Why are we trying to change something that is already working up there when we can just bring it down here and get that earlier exposure?’” he said.

There are currently 74 students in the year-long manufacturing course, including 25 girls. Overall, the number of girls in the skilled science courses has more than doubled this year.

Dentlinger and Albin said they were both impressed by the middle school program and said this is key to helping build a workforce for manufacturing jobs across the state.

“We need to get kids to be interested in this and Hastings is a great example of how you can do that,” Dentlinger said. “It’s great to see all these kids going into these classes and enjoying what they’re seeing.”

Albin said he can see the true benefits of creating a fast track for students by giving them that initial exposure in middle school so they can take off into the more intense classes in high school.

Middle School Principal Dave Essink said he was proud to host the governor and show off the new programs at the school.

“I think it shows there is a lot of support at the state level and just the fact that they take the time to come out and see what is happening and want to support not only what we’re doing as a school district but also what we’re doing on a bigger level to help grow the workforce,” he said. After a stop at the middle school, Ricketts and the group visited the career pathways programs at the high school before making stops in McCook and Omaha.