Tift Co. Mechatronics Partnership leads State - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Tift Co. Mechatronics Partnership leads State

Students Edward Farley and Xena Barnes work with programmable logic controls, at TCHS, while gaining credit through MTC at the same time Students Edward Farley and Xena Barnes work with programmable logic controls, at TCHS, while gaining credit through MTC at the same time

Information from Moultrie Technical College

With the first curriculum of its kind to be taught in a Georgia high school, Tift County's Mechatronics Partnership is already producing promising results and statewide acclaim.

After only one year of implementation, the partnership between Tift County High School (TCHS) and Moultrie Technical College (MTC) has the highest overall approval rating in the state with participating students also making the top scores in four categories.

The program and other programs like it across the state, all funded by the Race to the Top (RT3) grant, were evaluated recently by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) using a pre-post survey designed to measure gains in problem solving, communication skills, self-management, and engagement.

RT3 grant funds are provided to determine best practices in innovative programs involving partnerships between schools, institutions of higher education, and community businesses and nonprofit organizations. TCHS, in partnership with Moultrie Tech, was awarded the funds to provide an innovative Mechatronics Pathways program for 60 students at the high school. Students in the program are learning a combination of the design processes of mechanical, electrical, control and computer engineering. Graduates will earn technical certificates of credit from MTC.

"As Superintendent, I am extremely excited about the extended possibilities for our students and community as a result of our RT3 Mechatronics grant. Our successful partnership with MTC continues to open opportunities for our students not available in other schools and communities," said Tift County Schools Superintendent Patrick Atwater.

For the first grant year which ended December 2012, the TCHS students had the highest scores in intrinsic motivation, self-management, intent to persist, and problem solving when compared to the five other RT3 Innovation programs evaluated.  

In addition to scoring high in areas deemed crucial for gaining skills and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, the Tift County program was highly rated by the participating students. It claimed the top student approval rating in Georgia, with 97 percent of students giving the program "excellent" or "good" marks.

The goals of the Mechatronics Pathways at TCHS are to provide an innovative STEM-applied learning program to increase student academic success and graduation rates as well as activities for students and their families to increase awareness and engagement in STEM careers and educational opportunities. Administrators also hope to promote Mechatronics as an integral component of Georgia's workforce development.

Tift County Schools CTAE Director Craig Matthews said, "We are excited about the Mechatronics program, because it provides learning opportunities for advanced engineering skills for our students. It will also provide a highly-skilled technical workforce and will help in attracting new businesses and industry to Tift County."

The program provides a variety of learning experiences for students including field trips, competitions and apprenticeships, Family STEM nights at least twice a year, and a Summer STEM Camp for 50 students.

With an original program recruitment goal of 20 rising tenth grade students who took engineering classes in the ninth grade, TCHS more than doubled that mark enrolling 41 students in the first semester. There are currently 33 male and three female students active in the Mechatronics Pathways during the spring semester. Administrators say they will continue to recruit students for the program in the upcoming years.

A comprehensive local evaluation of the program conducted by Sharpe Solutions showed that student attitudes about class and school have also shown improvement. Just over one-third of the Mechatronics Pathways students said they looked forward to coming to school when surveyed in August 2012. By December, that number had improved to over half of the students claiming positive outlooks on school attendance.

At the beginning of the school year the local evaluation also revealed that just over one-third of students said they thought STEM skills were important for the future of the country. December's internal survey showed that over three-fourths of the students now strongly agree that STEM skills are vital for success in the United States.

Tift County's program has seen a 22 percent leap in the number of students considering a career in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math to 53 percent after only one semester of mechatronics studies.

For more information about Tift County's Mechatronics Pathways program and enrollment for the 2013-14 school year, contact Race to the Top Project Director Whitney Hudson at (229) 387-2475, extension 8007, or by email at whudson@tiftschools.com.   

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