Early College HS exposes students to clean technology, energy careers
Student Greg Welch: ‘I never really knew what I wanted to do – until this program’
On Board Online • April 23, 2012
By Alan Wechsler
Twenty-five students at Ballston Spa and Saratoga school districts are about to finish their first year in an innovative program that prepares them for college and jobs of the future.
Soon to expand to other districts in the Capital Region, the Clean Technologies & Sustainable Industries Early College High School gives students hands-on access to emerging technologies such as solar power, wind turbines and clean-room operations. Students will receive up to 25 units of college credit after completing two years in the program in their junior and senior years.
During a recent class in Photovoltaic and Electric Design, students learned about electrical load, current and a term called “operating point” from instructor Steve Karr, the owner of a photovoltaic installation company in Schenectady. Karr is also an adjunct professor at Hudson Valley Community College, where he teaches classes on solar panel installations.
“If high school students can come out of here understanding the fundamentals of clean energy,” Karr said afterward, “they’ll be way ahead of the curve entering college.”
Classes take place at a Saratoga County facility known as TEC-SMART (Training and Education Center for Semiconductor Manufacturing and Alternative and Renewable Technologies). It is equipped with full-size working wind turbines, a heating and air-conditioning demonstration center and a functioning clean room.
TEC-SMART was built in 2010 by Hudson Valley Community College with help from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), a state public-benefit corporation that funds clean-energy projects.
Both the community college and NYSERDA are partners with the Ballston Spa district in the program, which is supported by a three-year, $167,000 Smart Scholars Early College High School grant from the State Education Department. SED has awarded 23 Smart Scholars grants around the state to support districts and BOCES that create accelerated programs that enable students to earn college credits while completing a high school diploma.
Ballston Spa Superintendent Joseph P. Dragone said his district began to pursue the idea after he saw a similar program at a Columbus, Ohio high school. The program, which involves a partnership with Ohio State University, teaches STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – while exposing students to career opportunities.
Dragone was so impressed that he decided to start an early college high school in Ballston Spa, which is located about five miles away from a new microchip plant in Malta. GlobalFoundries, a world leader in computer-chip fabrication, has just opened a $5 billion plant in Saratoga County – described as “the largest commercial capital expansion project in the USA” and expected to be a major provider of high-tech jobs in the region.
With neighbors like that, “we’ve been working very hard on innovation,” Dragone said. “Teaching and learning have to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st Century. That’s really what this is about.”
Students’ introduction to clean energy begins with the ride from Ballston Spa to the TEC-SMART building in Malta; they’re transported on low-emission propane-powered buses, which are part of Ballston Spa’s fleet.
Students spend five mornings a week at TEC-SMART, taking college courses taught by Hudson Valley professors on two days and high school classes taught by Ballston Spa High School teachers on three days. The curriculum includes math and environmental science as well as more esoteric courses including Sustainable Design, Nanotechnology, Photovoltaic & Electrical Design and Legal & Ethical Environment of Business.
For Ballston Spa teachers Matt Glogowski, John Balet and Sara Grube-Edwards, the program is a chance to challenge students outside of a typical school curriculum. For instance, one project had students conducting energy audits on school buildings and analyzing data to present to the district. Other classes had them developing “New Urbanism”-style city downtowns and presenting their ideas to civic leaders – all while learning math, science and other STEM skills.
Students say it’s a challenging program, and that’s what they like about it.
“We’ve got actual college classes with college professors,” said Brian Holmes, a junior. “It takes a lot of getting used to.” But, he added, “you really grow up as a person. You adjust, and it’s really, really beneficial.”
Some students said the classes opened their eyes to possible careers. Greg Welch, a Ballston Spa senior, said he wants to move out West and become a wind turbine technician. He even has a dream of starting his own installation company.
“With fossil fuels in decline, it’s going to get better and better,” he said of the industry. “I never really knew what I wanted to do – until this program.”
The program has proved popular, and word has spread to other school districts. The fall 2012 semester will include 75 more students from as many as 12 school districts from across the Capital Region.
School districts wishing to send students to the program will have to pay Ballston Spa a tuition fee, much like a BOCES course. Ballston Spa is currently working with private businesses and industry leaders to provide funding for future classes to ensure access to all students.
The community college charges tuition for the college-level courses. This year’s tuition was covered by the state Smart Scholars grant, and NYSERDA will pick up the tab in 2012-13 in the form of scholarships.
Alan Wechsler is communications officer for New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
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