May 24, 2011

Endangered Leaders

Pinkerton Academy seniors Hayden Hicks, left, and Matt Shumway collaborated on creating CrutchEZ, an easily adjustable crutch mechanism for people who otherwise struggle going up and down stairs. The assignment was part of their Project Lead the Way curriculum, designed to make math and science learning relevant in students' lives.
Union Leader Correspondent
A bicycle hand brake is the key to
the CrutchEZ design.
DERRY -- It’s a quiet afternoon in Mr. Cunningham’s Engineering Design and Development class. That means students Hayden Hicks and Matt Shumway can take some time out from thinking about how to make stuff happen to show off how they have actually made stuff happen.
Theirs is a thought-provoked project that has been a school year in the making.

“They’re designed to go up stairs,” said Shumway, pointing the end of an aluminum crutch into the air. “We call them Crutch-EZ.

You can say it ‘Crutch E-Z,’ or just ‘crutches.’ It works either way.”
 Hicks, a home-schooled student who attends Pinkerton solely for the hands-on engineering program, borrowed a hand-brake from his little sister’s bicycle to create a convenient grasp handle inside the crutch. When squeezed, the bike cable that is threaded through the hollow leg of the crutch engages the pin locking device, allowing the user to easily adjust the length of the crutches.

In researching a problem to solve by way of invention, Hicks and Shumway came across a study about mobility problems among children and adolescents who use crutches for leg injuries.
“We learned that every year there are several thousand injuries in kids who use crutches, and one of the problem areas was injuries in trying to go up and down stairs with crutches,” Hayden said.
The two senior students have spent the year working out the bugs of their invention, a successful project which is the capstone of Pinkerton Academy’s Project Lead the Way curriculum, part of the school’s Center for Career and Technical Education, or CTE, program.
Project Lead the Way, a national
 incentive program, aims to make math and science more relevant for students, regardless of their ability level. It is centered around projectbased learning. At Pinketon, students can begin freshman year and build, course by course, until they end up in Cunningham’s engineering/ design class.
Pinkerton Academy is one
 of 3,000 high schools nationally that offer a Project Lead the Way. Hicks and Shumway have each earned nine college credits through the program, which gives them a good jump on their chosen college majors.
For Hicks, that means going on to the University of New Hampshire for mechanical engineering. Shumway will attend Boston University for computer science.
“I was really impressed with the projects that came out of the class this year,” said Joe Cunningham, who is a master teacher for Project Lead the Way, which means he invests some of his summer in training other teachers to teach the rigorous courses.
Shumway, who got his start building with LEGOs as a kid, said it was important to be able to focus on a project like this during school hours.
“I probably wouldn’t like school as much without CTE.
I really like the hands-on learning,” Shumway said.
For Hayden, more of a K’NEX kid, leaving the home school environment to collaborate with other students, under the influence of a teacher of Cunningham’s caliber, is inspiring.
“I don’t know where I’ll be in 15 years, but I’m better off for having had this course,” Hayden said.
Despite the obvious advantages of having such programs in place, said Jack Grube, director of Pinkerton’s CTE program, right now the future of CTE education here — and across the country — is threatened by local and
 federal education cuts.
Grube explained that when New Hampshire lawmakers voted to cut $1.5 million in CTE funding, known as Perkins Act funding, they also put $7 million in federal allocations tied to that $1.5 million on the chopping block.
A requirement of the Perkins Act, which underwrites vocational education, says that if states pull back on their percentage of administrative funding, it disqualifies them from the rest of the federal dollars that follow, Grube said.
There is even more at stake than the money, said Lisa Danley, director of Career and Technical Education for the state Department of Education.
The Carl B. Perkins Act of 2006, which goes to every state, was designed to improve the caliber of vocational training, thus boosting the economy by making sure training courses were up to industry standards and graduates
 left voc-ed programs job ready, Danley said.
Without funding, many vocational training centers around the country will be devastated, said Grube. Here in New Hampshire, schools that serve as magnets for students from surrounding towns, like Manchester School of Technology and Concord High School, will be hardest hit.
“Manchester School of Technology and Concord High School rely heavily on out-of-district students, and they will be most impacted by these cuts. But every CTE center in the U.S. will be affected, even Pinkerton,” said Grube.
Part of the federal funding model provides for biennial renovation of two state-certified CTE centers. Pinkerton and the Huot Technical Center in Laconia were due to receive renovations and upgrades this year, Grube said.
“At this point, we’ll have to wait and see. Everything hangs in the balance,” Grube

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