Grants help Sierra High grow mechatronics program with use of drones | SierraSun.com

Grants help Sierra High grow mechatronics program with use of drones

Katja Dahl
Special to the Sun

Large and small quad-copter drones are funded by Excellence in Education for Sierra High¹s Engineering Technology program.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Every school is different. There are twelve schools in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District and while they may follow the same general curriculum and state guidelines, each school must make educational choices and provide unique learning opportunities to support their individual students.

This is certainly the case at Truckee's Sierra Continuation High School.

Sierra High is one of the alternative resources available to Tahoe/Truckee students who seek a substitute to other more traditional high school environments. Sierra High's goal is to provide individualized and personalized education, combined with emotional and social developmental opportunities. This combination increases the likelihood that students will successfully complete their secondary education.

The formula seems to be working, as Sierra High was named one of 24 California Model Continuation Schools (out of 479) by the California Department of Education. This is a distinction that they have earned repeatedly since 2000.

The Excellence in Education Foundation has contributed $9,964 in grant money to Sierra High over the past two years to assist the school in meeting their goals. Funds have been utilized for career planning and to enhance science and engineering offerings.

The Career Cruising grant funded a computer program designed to help students identify and explore career options that are of interest to them. Students first complete a personal interest inventory and then narrow down careers that they would like to focus on.

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"This program helps bridge the gap between high school and what happens next," explains Sierra High Principal Greg Wohlman. "It gives students more options than strictly pushing them to a four-year university. This program is very broad and makes it easier for students to relate their interests to future educational opportunities such as technical-vocational schools, two-year community colleges, four-year universities and other training programs."

To support literacy and provide students the power of choice and ownership in their education, a leisure reading grant allowed the school to purchase high interest books purely for leisure reading.

This program places books into the hands of students based on student choice. It directly relates to building reading and writing stamina for students and also works as a positive reinforcement reward while increasing their exposure to reading text.

Science grants aimed at enhancing the school's science programs funded a collection of compound microscopes and stereomicroscopes. Compound microscopes are a fundamental part of laboratory science that permits one to see a very small specimen, such as a single celled organism, in two dimensions, while the stereomicroscopes allow students to see a larger specimen, such as a leaf or rock, in three dimensions.

Now in its second year, Sierra High's Engineering Technology classes have benefitted from two back-to-back grants, to begin the mechatronics program and continue to expand it.

The mechatronics program introduces students to computer programming and some technical applications of keyboarding, as well as the design and development of computer systems through the use of large quad-copters or drones, which are tied to transmitters.

To enhance this program, a second grant funded smaller quad-copters, which are an easier entry for the quad-copter pilot flights. The smaller versions can be "bound" to the same transmitters as the larger quad-copters. Students hone their piloting skills with the small machines and build the fine motor skills needed to fly the larger more difficult copters successfully.

"The engineering technology classes are a great hands-on learning opportunity for students and they fill areas of credit needed for graduation," explains Trent Kirschner, the Science and Electives teacher at Sierra High. "The program supports both career/technical education credit as well as vocational/technical credit while giving students real 21st century skills in this area.

"The kids have been responding so well that we doubled participation in just one year."

Katja Dahl is an Excellence in Education board member. Visit ExInEd.org to learn more.