We Love Illinois Schools

CTE During COVID-19

August 11, 2020 Illinois State Board of Education Season 1 Episode 2
We Love Illinois Schools
CTE During COVID-19
Show Notes Transcript

Career and Technical Education courses are now more important than ever. They prepare students for high-wage jobs in the post-pandemic economy, and bolster local businesses by supplying the necessary skilled workers. 

But how do you have a hands-on CTE class when you can’t have in-person instruction?

In today’s podcast, we’re going to take you to Township High School District 214, where every student has some sort of workplace experience outside of the classroom. Superintendent David Schuler says his district has found ways to both keep those experiences going, and make a meaningful contribution to the battle against COVID-19.

Theme music by José Rivera.
Incidental music courtesy of https://www.purple-planet.com

RHODES  0:02  

Hello, we are the Illinois State Board of Education, and we love Illinois schools. I'm Dusty Rhodes in the communications office at ISBE.

Back in March, when Illinois closed down school buildings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition to remote learning was tough for everyone. Some academic classes can make a relatively smooth transition to an online or remote learning format. But for Career and Technical Education courses, remote learning presented some additional challenges. 

CTE is a high priority in Illinois. In fact, on May 22, our state became one of the first six in the nation to win federal approval for our CTE plan, focused on equity and inclusion. This plan was developed by our agency working with the Illinois Community College Board, business owners, educators and students. The plan raises the bar for CTE in Illinois and challenges programs to recruit and support underrepresented students. Now CTE courses are more important than ever. They prepare students for high wage-jobs in the post-pandemic economy and bolster local businesses by supplying the skilled workers they need. 

But most CTE courses are hands-on, and how can you have a hands-on class when you can't have in person instruction? In today's podcast, we're going to take you to Township High School District 214, where every student has some sort of workplace experience outside the classroom. D 214 Superintendent Dr. David Schuler, says his district has found ways to both keep those experiences going and make a meaningful contribution to the battle against COVID-19. And some of it sounds like this.

[sound of 3-D printers]

But before we get to that, we need to get a sense of what D 214 was like before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

So here's Dr. Schuler talking with ISBE's Communications Consultant, Denise Albert, way back in 2019.


D 214 is the largest high school district in Illinois, serving eight communities made up of an estimated 250,000 residents. D 214 has seven high school campuses, offering more than 600 courses, which now includes an innovative apprenticeship program. Dr. Schuler was also named the 2018 Illinois Superintendent of the Year by the Illinois Association of School Administrators. Dave, thank you so much for taking time with us today.

DR. SCHULER  2:41  

Absolutely. I'm happy to be with you, Denise.

ALBERT  2:43  

So you started an innovative program last year, which has already been nationally recognized. Tell us about youth apprenticeship.

 DR. SCHULER  2:50  

Yeah, we're thrilled with our youth apprenticeship program. You know, in our district, we want every child to have an external workplace experience while they're with us. So on an annual basis, we have over 2,700 workplace learning experiences for our students. That might be a 30-hour micro experience, up to a full youth pre-apprenticeship program where the students are getting, it's a two year program where students are really digging in and learning the work. And then through a partnership with the state and the federal government, they're actually getting paid and the employers are getting paid to help support them in that workforce development. 

You know, it's so critical for us in K-12 settings to provide a economic and human relations pipeline for our local businesses and our communities while also you know, providing opportunities for our kids to find out what they do want to do with their future. And a lot of times more importantly, what they don't want to do. I'd much rather have them learn what they don't want to do when they're in high school than after their third year of college, right? And so it's really making sure that we're providing opportunities for every child based on their personalized pathway. And Youth Apprenticeship has just been one of those experiences and opportunities for our kids that really is not only just changing a child's life, but it's breaking the generational cycle of poverty for many of our families. And it's just, it's such an honor to be able to provide that opportunity to our community.

ALBERT  4:14  

So tell us how they're gaining work experience and what the student reaction has been so far.

DR. SCHULER  4:21  

The student reaction has been just outstanding. So to participate in the program, it's quite a commitment. It's a two-year commitment to be part of the youth apprenticeship program. So we require students to, to fill out an application and then to be interviewed to make sure they understand that commitment. And I think what we've learned through that interview process is children's stories will bring you to tears. 

And, you know, we had one young man that I that I'm recalling right now who he and his family are working multiple jobs. He had an overnight shift at one of the airports in the area, doing baggage because it's the only way they could stay in the apartment in which they were living. And he came in and interviewed for a cybersecurity pre-apprenticeship program. And he said as part of that, you know, he just said to his mom, he was not going to be able to work overnight anymore for the duration of those two years, but he'd be able to bring in enough money that they were going to be able to make it and pay their bills. And by getting that pre-apprenticeship, it was going to put them on a path where his mom wasn't going to have to work three jobs to support her family anymore. You know, and you hear stories like that. And it's incredibly emotional, and just really motivating to those of us in leadership, to make sure that we have a moral obligation, and we understand that obligation and that responsibility to change the trajectory of families dreams in our community.

RHODES  5:53  

That's what D 214 was doing before the Coronavirus closed school buildings. Later, after Illinois schools made the shift to remote learning, I reconnected with Dr. Schuler to see how things had changed. And you know what? He told me his teachers found a way to simulate external workplace experiences by using artificial intelligence.

DR. SCHULER  6:20  

I'm not sure we would have thought about that before COVID-19. But now I think moving forward, we're going to be able to provide an external workplace learning experience for every kid; even if we don't have an industry partner to match, that suits their needs, through the use of AI. Which is super exciting, from the perspective of a lot of our rural colleagues, and I was a rural superintendent, who did not have a lot of industry partners in my community. But now through this use of technology, we're going to be able to provide those experiences, even if we don't have an industry partner. So I hadn't thought about that until the last few weeks. But I think there's a real exciting potential here, when we see the sunrise and we actually get to the other side of COVID-19.

RHODES  7:08  

D 214 has harnessed their technology resources to try to help steer toward that sunrise on the other side of COVID-19.

DR. SCHULER  7:15  

We're participating in the Folding at Home project, which -- have you heard about that? No? So the Folding at Home Project is a project out of Stanford University where they're trying to map and decode COVID-19 and try to identify all the antibodies that then hopefully will lead to a vaccine. But the project just requires huge amounts of server space on computers. And so they've reached out and said, anybody who has server space, can you assist us in this experiment in this study. So you know, all of us in public schools have all these computers and all these servers in our buildings that are not being in use right now. So why not give them over to someone who's actually studying to try and define and clearly map out the antiodies or COVID-19 that can then hopefully be to vaccine? 

And so we've got servers and all of our buildings now that are actively running these different studies, all through Stanford, to help Stanford identify the roadmap for COVID-19 and hopefully provide a vaccine. And so I would hope that, you know, we can share that information with our colleagues and anybody who's not having kids and sessions still have servers in schools. Let's help them join with us and Stanford to find a vaccine.

RHODES  8:40  

And am I understanding you correctly, you're saying the word folding like laundry?

DR. SCHULER  8:44  

Correct, it's Folding at Home. If you just Google it, it'll come right up. 

RHODES  8:48  

Why is it called folding? 

DR. SCHULER  8:50  

I have no idea. I'm a social studies guy, not a chemistry guy.

RHODES  8:55  

As Dr. Schuler suggested, I did Google it, and as some of you probably know, folding refers to the way human protein folds in the cells that make up your body. The Folding at Home project is now based at Washington University in St. Louis, and anyone can sign on to help. 

But that's not the only way D 214 is using its CTE resources to fight the Coronavirus. Since March, about a dozen D 214 teachers have been using the district's 3D printers to make equipment needed to protect people from COVID-19.

DR. SCHULER  9:01  

We spent about a week prototyping different types of respirators and face shields, and we could produce the respirators, but we couldn't get to that N95 level or above. But we could efficiently produce face shields. So then I reached out to Harper Community College and said, you know, what about partnering with us because we can probably make a lot more if we do this in conjunction with each other. And they said that's great. So we're producing the headband and they're producing the plastic that goes on the headband.

And we reached out to Senator Ann Gillespie's office, who's been a huge supporter of superintendents and of our CTE space, and she's like, I can help get us some equipment. But we need to get this going because our first responders and our grocery store workers, our dental offices, our nursing homes need face shields. So we were able to acquire some additional 3D printers and our teachers have just been amazing. And so we're now at the point where we're at full capacity, making 2,000 face shields a week for our community, and then we'll send them to the stockpile for the state, for them to use as they see fit.

RHODES  10:37  

Philip Tschammer teaches at Buffalo Grove High School, he's one of the D 214 teachers involved in the project.

TSCHAMMER  10:50  

I've got a little area or a little room in my apartment, that is my own personal office area. And that's normally where I would do a lot of computer work. But I've had to take that over with multiple 3D printers.

RHODES  11:06  

Do you want to define multiple?

TSCHAMMER  11:08  

I have four 3D printers. Three of them are Ultimaker S5, which are larger 3D printers, that can print basically a build volume of 12 inches by 12 inches by 12 inches. And then I have a Ultimaker S3, which is a little bit smaller.

RHODES  11:34  

Okay, and they've taken over your office to do what?

TSCHAMMER  11:37  

We are creating personal protection equipment for first responders. So we are 3D printing the headband portion of it, of our face masks that we're creating. And we are working in partnership with Harper College. They are laser cutting a clear plastic face shield that just snaps on to the headband that we 3D print. And again, we're donating those to first responders. Just a couple of them that we're donating to is the Arlington Heights police department and fire department. And also the Buffalo Grove police department and fire department. We are running the printers 24/7 nonstop.

RHODES  12:25  

They don't get overheated? I mean, it sounds like a stupid question. But they never have to rest?

TSCHAMMER  12:34  

No, we do take a little bit of time. About every five days, there's some maintenance that we need to do, where we're lubricating some of the moving parts that are on it and making sure the rest of the printer is very clean. So we do take a little bit of time to do that. But doing that for each machine, we take maybe a half hour tops. So the printers are pretty much down for a half hour or every five days and outside of that they're running 24/7.

RHODES  13:05  

And okay, so the printers in your apartment are not the only ones going at home. How many does D 214 have going, do you think?

TSCHAMMER  13:16  

Right now, we have 35 printers going throughout the district. I'm working with 12 other teachers to create these as well.

RHODES  13:26  

So how long does it take for it to spit out one strap?

TSCHAMMER  13:32  

It's roughly two hours to create one strap. 

RHODES  13:36  

Oh my goodness. 

TSCHAMMER  13:37  

The reason why that's kind of hard to say is because the 3D printers that we have are big enough for us to print three straps at once. And it takes about seven hours to create three straps.

RHODES  13:53  

Okay, so by the 12 by 12 area that you've got, it prints 3. Okay. All right. Wow. Okay, so you're basically like replicating a little factory?

TSCHAMMER  14:11  

More or less is that, each of the 12 teachers that I work with, we all have our own little, more or less manufacturing facilities in our homes to create these.

RHODES  14:23  

These printers came from the school building?

TSCHAMMER  14:28  

Our district had just purchased 30 new 3D printers. And we were working in partnership with the Governor's office in Springfield to find the funding for these and to purchase these 3D printers. So they are, I believe there's about five of them that came from buildings originally but us as a district had purchased 30 brand new 3D printers to create this PPE for first responders. One of the great by-products of this is that moving forward in the future, we're going to be able to take these 30 3D printers and spread them out between the buildings in our district. Some buildings have older 3D printers that don't function as well. And some buildings don't even have a 3D printer in the building. So the great thing about this is that we're using this to, again, create PPE for the first responders. When we get past this, we're going to be able to take these 3D printers, spread them out through multiple buildings in the district, and that will give students the opportunity to use the 3D printers to their full function and to their full potential.

RHODES  15:46  

That sounds like a silver lining right there. What are some of the things 3D printers can be used for? I've seen jewelry made by 3D printing.

TSCHAMMER  15:54  

3D printers, that's kind of a tough question because it's really hard to kind of fathom this, but 3D printers can be used to create pretty much anything you can possibly think of. If you can design it on a computer, you can create it in a 3D printer. I have seen people make parts for specific video equipment. Maybe, there's a part that broke on a camera tripod and they can't find that part to purchase that replacement part. What they can do is create it in a computer and 3D print back to use it for the camera tripod. In engineering, it's a great tool for students to see something that they create on a computer, they can take that item and bring it to life on a 3D printer. And that helps connect what they're doing on the computer to something real in real life, something that's tangible. They can see that actual part being created and that just helps the learning process. It helps the students really make that connection on why is this important for what I'm doing.

RHODES  17:14  

I mean, I think I've even heard of body parts being created with 3D printing.

TSCHAMMER  17:20  

Exactly, bioengineering is a huge field in engineering. A lot of people are creating something very specific, because everybody's completely different. Maybe it's, you know, a fake leg or something like that, for somebody that lost their leg. Everybody is completely different in the way that they work with a fake leg or something like that. Everybody's going to need a custom leg, there isn't just one, you know, part that is going to work for everybody in the world. So this allows 3D printers to easily recreate something that is very specific and different for each person. It's not just manufacturing the exact same thing all the way across the board. You can really talk with somebody and really make something very specific just for them.

RHODES  18:18  

So the answer to the question of what can a 3D printer do, is just like, there's no limits. So it must be kind of exciting to think what kids can come up with when they distribute these 30 3D printers across the district.

TSCHAMMER  18:34  

Exactly. One of the biggest things that I love seeing in the classroom is when students get that Aha! moment. They realize that they can create almost anything. Once they grasp that idea, that's where the creativity comes out in the students and they really get into, you know, solving a problem for engineer and then really get creative. What can I create to solve this problem and that's where the ideas come from and that's what sparks the energy in the students.

RHODES  19:08  

That was Philip Tschammer a teacher at Buffalo Grove High School. 

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Transcribed mostly by https://otter.ai; refined by humans.