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SMHS now offers four-year engineering program

08/18/2017 | Comments

COLORADO SPRINGS. The Project Lead the Way (PLTW) engineering program at St. Mary’s High School will be fully in place this fall with the addition of the fourth course completing a highly successful four-year roll out. The PLTW engineering program strengthens St. Mary’s already strong STEM (science technology engineering math) offerings.

“For the first time this past academic year, we had 20 students who earned college engineering credit from UCCS,” said Mike Kloenne, one of St. Mary’s PLTW teachers.

Credit is earned when students take the PLTW end of course exam, and earn a five or above on a scale where nine is the top score. A score of five equals 85 percent or a B letter grade. The exam counts for 50 percent of the students’ grades, while their in-class grade counts for the other 50 percent. All of the PLTW courses offer an opportunity to earn college credit, but the option is not available at a school until the school offers at least three PLTW courses. St. Mary’s added its third course in the fall of 2016.

When the 2017-2018 school year began, St. Mary’s added Engineering Design and Development, its fourth and final PLTW course. This capstone course of the PLTW curriculum will take students through the engineering design process as they work to solve real world problems. Kloenne has been working to build strong community partnerships and mentorships that will be part of the course.

“Someday I’d like to see our students earn a patent for one of their projects in the EDD course,” he said.

The other three PLTW courses offered are: Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, and AP Computer Science. Kloenne teaches both Introduction to Engineering Design and Engineering Design and Development, while new teachers Marge Thibault and Dawn Kelly will teach Principles of Engineering and AP Computer Science Principles, respectively. All of the teachers certified with PLTW affiliated universities.

Students who complete all four years of the PLTW curriculum can earn 11 college credits at UCCS in engineering by the time they graduate high school. If students choose not to attend UCCS, the credits may transfer but even if they don’t, Kloenne said taking the courses are beneficial to students interested in a career in engineering.

“Having these courses on a transcript makes a student’s college application stronger and may allow freshmen to get into a school of engineering that they would otherwise have to wait to apply to,” Kloenne said. “It could be a tipping point in their favor for those select slots at certain institutions.”

The freshman who started in the PLTW program at St. Mary’s four years ago are seniors this year. Of the 44 students in that original class, only six remain. Kloenne said the majority of those original 44 were upperclassmen who were not able to complete all four years of the program due to graduation. However, even for students who take a PLTW engineering course and decide not to continue, Kloenne considers that a success, too. 

“Discernment is an important part of this program,” he said. “Not everyone is going to be an engineer, but all students can benefit from the creative and critical thinking that is learned through these courses. The skills they learn can help in any profession.”

(Amy G. Partain is communications associate for St. Mary’s High School.)

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