CAT: Four Years Later
One of the first words I remember learning to recognize and read was “CAT” from the old Dick and Jane basal series. Spot was the dog and Puff the cat.
Fast forward fifty-plus years and CAT has taken on a new meaning. Back in 2013 Laurens County School Districts 55 and 56 and Richland County School District 2 wrote a national grant funded by the Department of Labor. From this astronomically large grant award (nearly seven million), each of the three districts were able to strengthen efforts in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
The name of the grant was CAT—short for the “Carolina Alliance for/of Technology.” Since 2014 (when the grant was awarded) students opting to participate in the program have been given fast-track courses in either engineering or computer science.
The purpose of the grant was to provide “home grown” talent in areas the Department of Labor had to outsource to citizens of other countries by work visas.
Fast forward four years and we now have a cadre of students who’ve completed various courses in the “Project Lead the Way” engineering curriculum. This four-year cohort will be the first full class to have taken the program all the way from its freshman year.
The CAT grant provided Clinton High School with the resources and the engineering teacher for this marvelous career exposure and possible path. The grant further provided funding for additional counselors for all of the four CAT cohorts (all four present grade levels, freshmen through seniors). In addition to these supports, CAT allowed the district to bring in AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination).
AVID is best described as “commonsense educational practice.” AVID teaches students they are in control of their own trajectory and provides frameworks for future academic success through good note-taking practice, time management, and goal orientation and management.
Although three previous CAT grade levels have matriculated through phases of the CAT program, this year’s senior class is the first to have had the “full experience.”
In addition to the wonderful in-class opportunities students have, CAT also serves as a conduit for real-world meetings and share sessions.
Last Friday, March 16, sixteen engineers from around our community met with CAT students for a “Lunch and Learn.” These professionals represented major economic drivers from across the Upstate, businesses like BMW; Capsugel; Eaton; Fluor; Fuji; GE; Laurens County Water & Sewer; McMillan, Pazdan, & Smith Architects; Plastic Omnium; Response Manufacturing; Triangle Construction; and ZF Transmission. Nowhere can future STEM-career minded students find the real story better than day-to-day STEM professionals.
Likely the most enjoyable part of the CAT experience is the field trip to Walt Disney World where tenth grade students who score at an advanced level on career-inventory assessments are given a no-cost-to-student trip of a lifetime. Terri and I were fortunate enough to have gone with twenty-five sophomores from CHS this year. Traveling with our friends for LDHS and two high schools in Richland 2, these students got behind-the-scenes during times when the parks were not open to the public. Classes like “The Evolution of Technology” and “Energy, Force, and Motion” bring physics principles to life using amusement park rides as their laboratory.
I was amazed at what our students knew and how well they participated as part of a learning team. Not only were our students well-behaved and polite, they also showcased the intent of the CAT grant…preparing students for careers in any of the four STEM related fields (Now, without looking back, what does the acronym STEM stand for?).
None of the above could have been possible without the “woman behind the curtain” (using a little reference to The Wizard of Oz movie), Dr. Laura Koskela. It was she who helped hatch the idea of our districts banding together to create opportunities for our students just like those in much larger, more science-immersed, and wealthy communities. She has served and continues to serve (in retirement) as the Project Director for the CAT grant. She hates to be recognized and will cringe if she reads this, but she is the reason this grant is what it is for the students in our three communities.
Many great things are happening every day in Laurens County School District 56 though none greater than CAT. It has provided equipment, educators, excellence, and excitement.
And that is the best future formula for success and legacy for learning our community can hope to have.
May it be so!
(Dr. David O’Shields is superintendent of Laurens School District 56.)