January 2011

´╗┐Florida Middle School Electrical Academy Sparks Young Students' Interest
index.html Home    Print    Email

Go to www.ibew.org

In a mostly-rural, farm economy of hard-pressed northwest Florida, good jobs and unions are scarce. But tough times have not kept residents from having dreams for their children. For parents like Dan Hart, a truck driver, and his son, Jon Micheal, an eighth-grader, the September opening of the IBEW Electrical Academy at Ernest Ward Middle School in Walnut Hill is keeping some of those dreams for a prosperous future alive.

Sponsored by Pensacola Local 676 and the Escambia County School Board, the academy (the first in the nation at the middle-school level) had its open house in October 2010. The academy is giving students the chance to apply what they are learning in math, science and language arts to developing skills that can lead to good-paying careers.

"As I've grown up, I always liked to fix things. In the academy, we get hands-on projects," says Jon Micheal, 14, who is already making plans to attend West Florida High School of Advanced Technology, where a higher-level electrical academy can prepare him to go to college to be an engineer.

Nancy Gindle-Perry, the school's principal, who taught at the high-school level for 15 years, knows firsthand how important the middle school experience is to later academic and career success. "This academy is perfect for this area," says Gindle-Perry. "When local industries such as chemical, energy, manufacturing, telecommunications, the paper industry and the military-industrial complex are expanding and need new employees, we will be positioned to fill the industry demand for good skilled employees."

Reagan McDaniel, Local 676 business manager, was aware of employer-sponsored technical academies at local high schools in his jurisdiction. When Dale Cope, the Local's JATC training director, approached McDaniel with a concept for an electrical academy that he had developed with Art Johnson, the school district's vocational center's cooperative education coordinator, McDaniel immediately committed the union's resources and experience to developing the plan, focusing on renewable energy. McDaniel realized the need to influence students at an earlier age to consider the IBEW as a viable alternative to a college career.

Training Director Cope had spent 17 years working as a traveler on journeyman wireman jobs. A supervisor for White Electric and Cleveland Electric, Cope bought a house in Las Vegas with no thought of returning to Florida, but after McDaniel called and asked him to come back home to help revitalize his local as an organizer, Cope agreed. For a time, Cope worked on the Florida Initiative, organizing nonunion electricians and contractors. Then he went to work as the local's training director and on strengthening the program, bringing in $200,000 in grant money that was used to purchase a building for classes and two modular structures to train incumbent electricians in solar installations and welding.

Art Johnson is retired from Ford Motor Co. where he started out making radiators as a member of the UAW and ended up in middle management. Johnson, who has an engineering degree as well as an electronics background, spent four years teaching industrial arts at Ernest Ward Middle School before becoming the cooperative education coordinator, which led him to the local's apprenticeship.

"While working in the auto industry," says Johnson, "I realized the importance of post-secondary education, particularly the benefits of becoming a skilled craftsman. College is fine, but it's not for everyone. I wanted to introduce students, at a younger age, to what options are available to them other than college." Says Johnson, "There exists a great need to fill the increasing demand for skilled workers within the building and manufacturing trades."

A few years back, Cope introduced and supervised the building of a program to do hands-on training in solar energy and basic electrical applications introducing prospective electricians to AC/DC voltage and Ohm's law, while acquainting them with math, science and language arts as it pertains to the skilled trades. He also applied for grant money from the local Workforce Board to start a hands-on residential boot camp.

When the grant was awarded, Cope assigned Richard Perry as the instructor for both courses. Both endeavors were very successful. The director of the local workforce Board applauded Cope for his innovative, progressive and successful program.

Then, says Cope, "we put on suits and ties and made a proposal to Principal Gindle-Perry to establish an electrical academy at her middle school." The Escambia County School Board approved the program by unanimous consent. The academy commenced at the beginning of the 2010 school year with Johnson serving as the main instructor.

Since opening, the academy has featured a hands-on lab once a week. Students are hooking up receptacles, says Johnson, but more importantly, they are learning physical science and the critical need for math. "Students who stay with me," says Johnson, "will attain a better understanding of the importance of core academics. They will have the discipline and attitude to succeed in the workplace regardless of their chosen path."

Jennifer Peebles was planning on moving away from Walnut Hill until her daughter, Liberty, a seventh-grader, convinced her mother to remain in Walnut Hill so that she would be able to complete the electrical academy's courses.

"I thought it would be fun to learn something new that I could use for the rest of my life," says Liberty, who enjoys hunting, fishing and softball. "Whether you are a boy or a girl, you need to take advantage of opportunities," she says. The math can be difficult, she says, but Mr. Johnson "makes it easier and fun."

Middle school students Jennifer Peebles and Jon Micheal Hart enjoy hands-on projects in their school's electrical academy, sponsored by Pensacola, Fla., Local 676.