Building a better chicken coop – How smaller, rural districts are leading education innovation through CTE

February 26, 2018 by

Noah White and Nicholas Prendergast have a chicken coop they’d like to sell you and their pitch is compelling: this coop is state of the art – a fully-automatic abode for up to four feathered friends, with heat monitoring, pressure sensors and a buzzer system to feed and water them as needed. Batteries have not been included yet. But they’re working on it.

White and Prendergast are part of a Dayton High School team – the only team in Oregon and one of just 15 in the country – that has received a $10,000 Lemelson MIT Inventeam grant. Participating teams are tasked to use technological solutions to solve a real-world problem in their own communities and will present their projects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in June.

Dayton and nearby Newberg High School are part of a new wave of thinking about the transformational power of career technical education (CTE) and the driving principles that make it such a powerful tool for education innovation. In partnership with organizations like Innovate Oregon and the Construct Foundation, students and teachers at Innovate-partnered schools are challenged to be agile, collaborative thinkers and problem solvers.

As Newberg High School junior, Logan Boyd describes it, “We get to make it about what we want to build and then we get to do it ourselves.”

Students in Integrated Design Studio at Newberg High School

Boyd is currently working, alongside his classmates on a design for a tiny house. What some may dismiss as an urban flight of fancy has a more serious purpose for the students in the school’s Integrated Design Studio, taught by three teachers who incorporate English, math, engineering and CTE coursework. Principal Kyle Laier credits Measure 98 dollars for making the addition of a CTE teacher possible at Newberg, offering students a hands-on learning experience that is both innovative and relevant to their community.

The Newberg students’ tiny home will be built for a local women’s shelter and eventually sited on the property of Northside Christian Church, which donated $20,000 towards the project.

Dayton High School Principal, Jami Fluke emphasizes that the impact of CTE cuts across Dayton’s socio-economic, gender, racial and academic lines, deepening her belief in this approach and driving her passion for it, despite the fact that it requires a more flexible mindset and organic process of learning. “Courage is at the core. To be able to take a risk in front of kids, knowing that you will fail and struggle…but that’s where you learn,” she says. “Once you see it, you can’t un-see it.”

Fluke’s working and future plans include pushing CTE principles further into core content areas. Dayton has also re-mastered its school calendar, incorporating a two-hour late start every Monday so that teachers can engage in planning, training and collaboration under the new paradigm. In addition, she says the funds are also giving the school the flexibility to ‘study’ their use of space, time and staffing so that they are planning most effectively for students.

Jason Resch, CTE director for Stand for Children and the Oregon Center for High School Success, the authors and driving force behind Measure 98’s passing, believes in the power of CTE and its ability to create transformational opportunities for all students. “As we continue to see the positive connection between CTE participation and graduation rates, it is clear that that now is the time to leverage Measure 98 funding to accelerate and scale up the strategies and practices that have proven so successful. We know CTE is working,” he said.

As Oregon’s tech industry undergoes its own rapid expansion and transformation, a new generation of students looms on horizon – active, engaged, collaborators who are inspired to positively impact their communities and the world around them.