When freshman Ward Andrew learned about the construction program at the new Montgomery Technical Educational Center, he didn't think twice about registration.
"My uncle is a carpenter," he said. "I've always wanted to be like him, so I thought I would give it a shot and see how it works out."
Nearing three months into the school year, he said it's been great. He likes the schedule, which includes two days of lab work per week in addition to traditional core classes on the other days. Students are bused for the labs to Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School for carpentry or H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College for welding, electrical and HVAC.
Students also receive collaborative classroom instruction from both their core and trade teachers.
Assistant Superintendent of Operations Donald Dotson called the high school, which is housed in the former McIntyre Middle School building, an untraditional approach that seeks to service those whose preference is for hands-on learning.
"They are teaching applied academics and project-based learning," he said. "We're excited. We feel we have a diamond in the rough, and we are meeting a need. This fills a void we didn't have, regardless of where they fall in the spectrum."
Upon graduation, students will leave MTEC with trade credentials as well as the same diploma as those who graduate from the district's other high schools. They will be prepared for further studies or for an entry-level job, according to Principal William Dean.
"We know every kid is not going to want to go to college, but at the same time, every child would like a good living," he said.
Pursuing that dream was Karlton Brown's motivation for choosing MTEC instead of continuing his studies at Robert E. Lee High School.
The junior said he wants to start his own welding business after leaving high school.
"I like to work hands-on," he said. "Instead of sitting in the classroom all the time, we get to go out in the field and do something new. When I get out of high school, I will already know what to do."
Currently, the school has 135 students enrolled and 20 faculty and staff members. Although that number doesn't match the initial estimates of nearly 300 students for the first year, Dotson said it can be viewed as a positive.
"With a new program, you want to start small so you can build a good foundation and work out the kinks," he said. "We have the interest, but I think the numbers we have right now lend themselves to solidifying the program and getting us ready to move to a larger facility."
The board of education recently approved the purchase of the old Parisian's building at Montgomery Mall, which is across the street from Trenholm, to house the school.
"We want to get our numbers up to 500 or 600 students, and we can't do that here," Dotson said.
The district has yet to make public the decision on what will become of the renovated McIntyre building, but Dotson said moving into a larger space also will allow for in-house labs.
In the coming years, there will be a phase-in of low-cost sports such as volleyball, tennis or golf, and they hope to offer an ROTC partnership through the students' home schools.
Right now, Dean said the biggest challenge at the new school is busing -- students are bused to and from their regularly-zoned school each day and to lab sites on Wednesdays and Fridays.
On the other hand, he said students said they like the class sizes.
"They like the smaller setting," he said. "They're not lost in the shuffle. Their strengths are being spotlighted now, so they feel like they are productive."
The principal said this educational approach is different, but it is exciting. The best part is the optimism he senses among the students.
"Now they have a chance to be productive citizens in our society," Dean said. "They have hope now of living the good life when they graduate." ___
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