By MIKHAIL ZINSHTEYN, EdSource
At her aerospace engineering elective, high school senior Keren Araujo shows off the latest creation.
“We’re designing airfoils — they’re like the wings of a plane,” explained the 17-year-old. After Araujo and her fellow students put the finishing touches on their wing designs using a computer engineering program, they’ll ship the dimensions to the classroom’s 3D printer and create more model wings.
She then points to a tube about a foot wide and the length of a student. “This machine simulates the flow of wind — it’s called a wind tunnel,” Araujo said. She’ll use it to test whether her airfoil will fly through the air efficiently.
“You want it to be good throughout the whole flight,” she explained casually. “You don’t want a wing that’ll be good just for take off.”
Araujo is one of 563 students at STEM Academy in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, part of a network of California high schools that’s rewriting the playbook for how students are both taught vocational skills and prepared for higher education.
All of STEM Academy’s students are placed in one of two career pathways — biomedicine or engineering. Students take a mix of college-preparatory and Advanced Placement courses on top of career-focused classes. In the aerospace engineering elective, which is geared for juniors and seniors, most of the students are also in pre-calculus or calculus and have taken physics, said the instructor, Julian Lewis, a retired aerospace engineer from Lockheed Martin with 34 years of experience and a career-technical education teaching credential.
The focus on supplying students with skills for college and career echoes a growing sentiment among both scholars and policy leaders; this month U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said, “We need to stop forcing kids into believing a traditional four-year degree is the only pathway to success.”
In California, these campuses are buoyed by recent…