New Tech Center Stressing Practice

    MUSKEGON — The 120-foot wind turbine standing just outside the main entrance gives you the first indication that this is not just any school.

    Producing 10 kilowatts of electricity, the wind turbine also serves as a way to teach students at the MuskegonAreaCareerTechCenter about alternative forms of power.

    So do the center’s geothermal heating and cooling system and the solar cells that generate power.

    Seeing those systems in operation and studying them in a hands-on environment reinforces the lessons students receive in the classroom, said Gary Martin, director of career and technical education for the Muskegon Area Career Tech Center.

    “A lot of kids don’t get it from a science bent until they can do it hands on,” Martin said. “We’re using the building as a learning tool. It’s not just a facility.”

    And the 58,000-square-foot center is the latest addition in the region for high school students to learn job skills.

    The tech center provides vocational training in technical and professional jobs, including e-commerce and Web site design, manufacturing and machine technologies, information technology, computer networking, computer-aided design, health sciences, automotive technology, and electronics and computer repair.

    Funded with a one-mill property tax levy that voters approved in September 2002, the $8 million technical training center opened this month and began hosting its initial six programs. Additional classes will start later this fall, for a total of 20.

    Prior to the center’s development, MuskegonCounty lacked a local career and technical training school, forcing many high school students in the area to travel to neighboring counties, most often NewaygoCounty, for vocational instruction.

    The MuskegonAreaCareerTechCenter has the capacity to provide instruction for up to 1,000 students annually — double the number who previously accessed vocational training through an assortment of options.

    “It’s just a piece of education that this county has not had and now we have it,” Martin said. “It really is a dream come true for the community.”

    Planning for the tech center and its curriculum has involved the close participation of businesses and labor unions, Martin said.

    He said both interests have provided direction to the MuskegonAreaIntermediateSchool District on what kind of training and equipment is needed in the community.

    Instructors will meet regularly with private-sector curriculum advisory committees to ensure instruction is up to date with industry needs, Martin said.

    Many programs offer certification in a given field and students can earn college credit hours for MuskegonCommunity College — a partner in the center’s development — and Baker College of Muskegon.

    Programs are designed to enable students to apply what they learn in the classroom in a practical setting, helping to teach them “employability skills” or make them better prepared for a post-secondary education, Martin said.

    Students enrolled in the horticulture program, for example, will learn the science behind the industry, then put their skills to work learning retailing in a small floral shop they’ll operate.

    “Bottom line, we want them employable or ready to go off to college,” Martin said.    

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