WATERLOO — The milling machines, lathes and a plasma cutter have been delivered to Bob Plagge’s new advanced manufacturing class.
But students arriving Thursday at the Waterloo Career Center got to familiarize themselves with a more basic piece of equipment.
Plagge asked them to assemble a couple wheeled carts “if you want to see how mechanically inclined you are.” The four students then moved on to filling tool chests they will use in the class with brand-new sets of tools.
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“We just took control of the room yesterday,” said Plagge. Until then, contractors had been setting up the 3,500-square-foot classroom and lab space and some of the machinery had not yet been wired.
“Electricians are still finishing up work,” said Plagge. Plus, they are waiting on the arrival of three computer numerical control lathes.
Thursday was the first day of classes in Waterloo Community Schools and the career center, located on the north end of Central Middle School, was debuting three new programs. Others included information technology and early childhood education, which is actually holding its classes at the Elk Run Preschool for the first year. Two other programs, nursing assistant and digital graphics, started at the center last fall.
All are part of the district’s push to expand its career and technical education offerings, which will eventually grow to at least 15 programs. Students at all three of Waterloo’s high schools can enroll in classes at the center, offered in 90 minutes blocks during morning and afternoon sessions. Many of the programs will be designed to earn a certification that can help students get a job in the field.
Jeff Frost, the district’s executive director of professional education, said there are about 140 students in all of the programs this fall. That compares to 56 students in the first two programs last spring. Students drive or are bused from their high school.
Eight Cedar Falls High School students also are enrolled. In Cedar Falls, officials said the Center for Advanced Professional Studies career program has enrolled at least three students from the Waterloo district.
Renovations were completed this summer in the middle school portion of the building, as well. Sixth-grade classes were moved from the second floor above the career center, where more programs will be located, to a first-floor area at the other end of Central.
There are nine renovated classrooms in the new sixth-grade wing. While they were all ready for the first day, something was still missing in the hallways.
“Lockers are the last piece of the puzzle,” said Central Principal Ross Bauer. Nonetheless, “it’s been a pretty positive response from what I’ve heard from the teachers so far.” He noted staff and students felt more isolated from the rest of Central in the old sixth grade location.
With plans under development to renovate the second floor of the career center, a number of the classrooms will shift from their current location next year. The advanced manufacturing program, though, is in its permanent space. The large space with a high ceiling fits the industrial purposes of the program.
Students will be “learning the basic principals of what milling machines do. Then metal lathes,” explained Plagge, who also works part-time at West High School as an industrial technology teacher. Afterwards, they move on to CNC mills and lathes and then work on computer-aided design. “Basically, this is hands-on,” he said.
That’s the sort of class students were looking for when they enrolled.
East High School junior Tyler Feltz got interested in the program after taking a metals class. Expo High School senior Adam Meier hopes to open a mechanic’s shop and said he will be able to machine his own parts with the skills learned in the program.
“I’ve been taking engineering classes since freshman year,” said East senior Jared Smock. Noting his brother is a CNC machinist at John Deere, he added, “I just always kind of liked this stuff.”
Like Smock, West senior Caleb DeKoster plans to study engineering in college. He has taken classes in the subject with Plagge at West and the advanced manufacturing program piqued his interest.
“I honestly just wanted to take a class out here,” he said.