The first in a new series on career and technical offerings at

Orange County High School.

Orange County High School has expanded its career and technical education (CTE) offerings this year, and the Hornet Center for Innovation is the hub of activity. Classes in robotics, computer science and technical drawing are offered in a suite of classrooms on the lower level of the high school.

Remodeled and refurbished over the summer, the center gives students and teachers plenty of room to spread out and use specialized manufacturing equipment. On a recent morning, students appeared fully engaged with the drawings they were doing by hand (taking a break from the computers, teacher Karen Boone explained) and the design work they were doing online.

Renee Honaker, director of secondary education for the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS), is the mastermind behind the CTE overhaul, which allows students to choose coursework based on career “pathways” in a wide variety of fields ranging from computer programming to graphic design to firefighting.

Dwayne Satterfield, hired this year to be the school division’s community liaison, is helping place high school students in jobs with local employers—another key element of the CTE program, Honaker said.

She said there are about 940 students currently enrolled in CTE classes. In the spring, a new computer science course will be added to the curriculum, and Honaker expects the “strong numbers” in enrollment to hold steady across the board.

CTE offerings also include classes in firefighting, EMT training, cosmetology and basic nursing care for students who want to become certified nursing assistants. Twenty OCPS teachers instruct the bulk of the classes; county employees outside the school system teach firefighting and EMT classes.

“I’m so excited about what we’re able to offer our kids,” Honaker said. She added that she is pleased with the new Hornet Center for Innovation because it provides students with “space that matches their potential and ability.”

On a recent tour of CTE classrooms, Honaker and Principal Wendell Green spoke with pride of the inventive work students are doing this semester in classes such as manufacturing 1 and 2, mechatronics, tech foundations, robotics and IT fundamentals. Some of the technical classes will enable students to earn professional certifications—a valuable notch on any resume.

Green said the expanded offerings “are providing equity for all of our students.” They can take the training they get while in high school and head to college or walk right into a career, he said, and be “a step ahead of their peers.”

A federal grant paid for some impressively large equipment the students are learning to use in their manufacturing and design classes. A large-format printer enables them to make banners, posters, t-shirt transfers and large signs, among other things. They use a laser engraver, acquired this year, to engrave wood, metal, paper and acrylic, and the finished products include engraved cups, plaques and nameplates.

The computer numerically controlled router is an especially massive beast of a machine. Honaker said students “create computer-generated designs that they use to operate the machine, resulting in a finished product.” The router can be used to make many different things, including robotic parts and guitar bodies.

Pausing in the midst of his technical foundations class with Boone, where he and his classmates were finishing up a unit on technical drawing, ninth-grader Bradley Ryan said the class was “actually kind of fun” because “we get to use computers and create stuff.”

Grace Adams and Emily Lee, also ninth-graders in Boone’s class, gave similar reviews.

Lee said Boone’s class is “really fun” and “gives me the chance to be creative.”

Adams added, “I’ve never done anything like this before. It allows me to learn new things.”

Boone teaches her students “every stage of design,” Honaker said with admiration, from drawing their concept of a product to operating the equipment they will use to make it to creating it with the equipment in the innovation center. Some students have become so interested in the process that they have formed the OC Sign and Graphics Club, with Boone as their adviser. Boone said the new group currently has 12 members.

School board chair Sherrie Page shares the enthusiasm for the expanded CTE program that Honaker and Green expressed. While CTE students may well go on to college, Page stressed the value of providing marketable skills that will prepare all graduates for careers straight out of high school.

Honaker, for her part, couldn’t be happier with the rollout of new offerings this fall. Though she did much of the behind-the-scenes planning for the CTE expansion, she is quick to give credit to the teachers.

“Our teachers are dedicated to bringing the most innovative courses to our students, and we are fortunate to have such amazing professionals,” she said.

Hilary Holladay covers education and politics for the Orange County Review. The author of five books, she is currently writing a biography of the poet Adrienne Rich.

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