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WATERLOO — Students were engaged in all sorts of activities Wednesday at the Waterloo Career Center.

One class reviewed scenes students had story-boarded and filmed from the cable TV series “Breaking Bad.” Another class was sketching a human figure. In a third classroom, a student was working on a metal block using a computer numerical control machine.

When it comes to skills students can learn in career programs, “a lot of people think it’s only machining,” said Sandy Miller, executive director of the Iowa Association for Career and Technical Education. But Waterloo Community Schools has eight programs at the center, now in its third year of operation, and is planning to launch five more next fall. A ninth program, early childhood education, is based at the district’s Elk Run Preschool.

A tour Miller was part of through the career center visited many of the current programs, including sustainable construction, advanced manufacturing, nursing and various digital programs. She was joined by Jarrod Nagurka, an official with the Alexandria, Va.,-based Association for Career and Technical Education, and Lisa Stange, an Iowa Department of Education staff member who is a regional vice president with the ACTE, as well. District administrators, Hawkeye Community College staff and a representative of U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s office also took part.

Earlier in the day, they toured Hawkeye’s Western Outreach Center near Holland. Miller organized four days of tours to eight career and technical education programs across the state from Sioux City to Cedar Rapids.

“It was our dream to showcase high-quality career and technical education in Iowa,” she said. “We feel that there’s so many awesome things going on around the state.”

The visitors listened to and watched what was happening in the classrooms. They talked to students and teachers about the learning process.

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In a digital interactive media class, where students filmed their story-boarding activity, students work on script writing and have access to a range of video equipment. East High School sophomore Jayden Weber said such resources are helping her to learn new skills.

“We have more things to work with, we have more stuff,” she said. “Whereas, if I were to do it at my school, I wouldn’t be able to do it maybe as well.”

While students in Todd Kern’s digital graphics class were sketching on paper, they will later be introduced to making art using a computer screen and photography.

In the sustainable construction program, students build very small houses, learning everything from basic construction techniques to installation of windows, doors, drywall and siding. In an advanced class, students work on roof-building techniques, but they don’t typically reach perfection on the first attempt. Teacher Wayne Lidtke pointed to the current class project, a partially completed roof.

“I’m their building inspector, and they’ve probably rebuilt this dormer three times,” he said. “They’re learning how to do it the right way, and they’re learning to accept a little criticism.”

Superintendent Jane Lindaman recounted how the district decided to launch its high school career and technical education program in the fall of 2016 despite the failure of a bond issue referendum to build a new facility to house it. Instead, they based the program at the north end of Central Middle School, which had more classroom space than it needed.

With two programs initially, the center had “37 students first semester and then it’s just grown and grown and grown,” said Lindaman. With the new programs next fall, the district will be up to 14. Remaining space at the center may allow for a total of up to 18 programs eventually.

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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