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Leading the way to success

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By Stephen Lega

In high school, I remember studying for tests, going to the library to do research, writing papers and giving the occasional class presentation. I didn't come up with a new design for the expansion of a local library. I didn't invent an adjustable rifle sight, and I didn't try to develop a new way to carry my keys.

But Marion County High School students have done all of those things during the past year.

A few years ago, I heard about Project Lead the Way, a new program being offer at MCHS, although it was housed at the Marion County Area Technology Center.

I remember instructor Greg Conley contacting me about the three-dimensional printer that had been purchased for the program.

At that time, I visited a class and found students manipulating computer programs to show projects they had created. They could show the complete product or the individual pieces. The printer basically put down layers of plastic to produce the individual pieces, which fit together like a puzzle to make the final product.

I was impressed then, but I'm even more impressed now.

There is a growing emphasis on STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) in American schools, and I can't think of a better example of a program that incorporates all three areas than Project Lead the Way.

The times I have visited PLTW classes, I've found the instructors, Conley and Ginger Spalding, and the students to be engrossed in whatever they are doing.

Each year, PLTW has grown at MCHS, adding more classes and more students. Predictably, the classes become more complex as student advance, but I'm all the more impressed by what they've done.

Students in Project Lead the Way aren't just learning more about engineering, they are also learning problem solving skills that will serve them - and possibly us - well in the future.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the seniors who participated in PLTW are all going to college to study engineering or architecture.

It's also worth noting that the local PLTW program received national certification earlier this year. Marion County was one of three Kentucky schools to complete this certification in 2011, and based on the comments I've seen from Dianne Leveridge, the Project Lead the Way director, they are particularly impressed with what has been happening here.

Leveridge wrote an email to Kentucky teachers involved in PLTW earlier this year, and she wrote more about the Marion County program than she did about the other two certified programs (Pulaski and Mercer counties, in case you were wondering) combined.

Leveridge praised the "phenomenal" relationship between the high school and the tech center, even calling it a model for other programs to emulate. 

She also sat in when students presented possible expansion plans to the local library board, but she pointed out that students have come up with possible designs for city hall, a water processing plant, a recreation center, and a fire training facility.

Needless to say, Leveridge isn't the only person who is or should be impressed with the work of PLTW students. 

Unfortunately, timing plays a big role in what we are able to report each week, and I wish I had been able to share more of this information with you sooner. It only takes one unexpected event to bump things further down the line in terms of what we can fit in a particular paper.

 Now that I think about it, maybe I should just ask some of the PLTW students to come up with a way to help with that, too.