Sophomores Hayden Hester and Carson Hall do their tasks on this simulated assembly line in Alexandria-Monroe Jr.-Sr. High School’s advanced manufacturing class. John P Cleary | The Herald Bulletin
Sophomores Hayden Hester and Carson Hall do their tasks on this simulated assembly line in Alexandria-Monroe Jr.-Sr. High School’s advanced manufacturing class. John P Cleary | The Herald Bulletin
ALEXANDRIA — Abigail Thomas, 15, stood at her work station and screwed a headlight and bumper onto the plywood automobile.

When she was done, she pushed the car down the line to the next person.

“When we don’t have enough people, we redistribute the jobs, and put the gas gauge on,” the Alexandria-Monroe Jr.-Sr. High School sophomore said.

She was one of a dozen students who took their place at work stations along the model factory line in the advanced automation classroom at Alexandria’s high school.

The advanced automation program, one of several being developed as alternative pathways for students who are likely to enter the world of work rather than postsecondary education, has become a regional model.

On Monday, officials from Mississinewa Community Schools and Northeastern Wayne School Corp. visited Alexandria for a demonstration of the model production line.

The advanced manufacturing program at Alexandria is being expanded to a second year, thanks to a $141,500 Explore, Engage, and Experience Grant from the Indiana Department of Education.

Though it’s been decades since Madison County was a center for automotive production, companies have approached local districts saying they need a workforce prepared to work on production lines.

Now in its second year, district officials hope the program will expand to cover each of the four years of high school.

Abigail said the kind of tasks she performs as part of the class seem enjoyable enough to become a career.

“I took the class because it seemed like something I would be interested in and would be valuable to learn as an occupation.”

Shanna Bass teaches the introductory principles, introducing some of the business math she teaches in other classes. Archie Prince, who is in his first year of teaching advanced manufacturing, said he learned many of the concepts while working five years for Sherwin-Williams.

“As we bring in this equipment, the whole idea is to set it up to industry standards,” Prince said.

The class isn’t really about learning to build a car but developing transferable skills that can be used in any trade, he said.

“It’s a lot of soft skills, teamwork, team leading, critical thinking and problem solving. It’s a lot of putting them in a position they never had to think about before,” he said.

“These kids are learning how to lead other people and how to write job specs. They have to develop how this line runs. It’s set up inefficiently on purpose. They’re under a certain time crunch to build it quickly.”

Central to all those skills, Prince said, is communication.

“This works on communication in a way these kids have never seen,” he said., “When they have a conflict, we really dial into it. We don’t just push through that.”

Their senior year, students will be expected to take the skills they have learned and put them to practical use in an internship, Prince said. In the end, many students will earn certifications that will give them a leg up when they enter the world of work.

“A lot of our business partners have the idea of hiring some of these students right out of high school.”

Principal Tom Johns said for some students, it may allow them to see this might not be a career direction for them; for others, it may introduce them to careers and networking opportunities they had not imagined.

“People don’t realize how lucrative advanced manufacturing is.” Believed to be the first high school-level model production line in the state, it was made possible through a partnership with Purdue Polytechnic Institute-Anderson, which has its own larger, more realistic conveyor line. Campus Director Lorri Barnett said she introduced the person who created and patented the simulator to officials at Alexandria.

“We’re trying to be at the table to get these kids engaged,” she said.

Though many students taking the class may opt to enter the workforce directly after graduation, she said, the relationship between the university and the high school still may lead to new college enrollment. Students have the option to earn dual credits for some of the classes.

“It will give us a pipeline. Some of these kids will figure out they want to be engineers.”
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