By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools
Rutherford County students taking courses in mechatronics and health sciences will soon benefit from new, industry-standard equipment, thanks to a large grant the district has received from the State of Tennessee.
Rutherford County Schools will receive more than a half a million dollars -- $556,300 to be exact -- from the Tennessee Department of Education to purchase new equipment for Career and Technical Education classrooms.
The state announced $15 million in these type of grants this week, which were awarded to various school districts who applied. The average award amount was $125,000 per district, according to the Department of Education.
Rutherford County Schools received more than three times that amount.
"Theory is great and we have to have the theory but having the hands-on experience is what brings it home for the kids," said Tyra Pilgrim, CTE coordinator for Rutherford County Schools. "It makes it more real."
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Career and Technical classes -- what many used to refer to as vocational classes -- have grown in popularity during the past two decades and Rutherford County Schools is known for being a leader in CTE offerings.
The district currently offers 15 career pathways at the high school level.
Those pathways include career areas such as engineering, medical, cosmetology, building trades, dentistry, agriculture, automotive and information technology, just to name a few.
The grant Rutherford County Schools received will be used to purchase new equipment for Oakland and Siegel high schools for their mechatronics programs.
Mechatronics covers the cross section of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer control and information technology. Students in these programs can earn industry certifications before graduating high school and are highly sought after by local manufacturing companies, such as Schwan Cosmetics, Nissan and Bridgestone.
The grant will also be used to purchase Welch Allyn machines for all the high schools that offer health science courses. Welch Allyn machines are used in the healthcare industry to check vital signs of patients.
The high schools receiving Welch Allyn machines include Blackman, Central, LaVergne, Oakland, Riverdale, Stewarts Creek, Siegel and Smyrna. The grant will fund the purchase of 16 machines.
Pilgrim said she decided to request funding for all the equipment needed by these programs, even though she was unsure if the state would award such a high amount. She originally requested $566,703 and was awarded only about $10,000 less.
"The CTE directors across the state have been asking and the governor agreed to put more funding into the budget," Pilgrim said, explaining Gov. Bill Haslam created the one-time fund this year to help fill the repeated requests.
The new equipment has been ordered and will be implemented in the schools throughout the school year, Pilgrim said.
In addition to awarding the CTE Equipment Grants, Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen also announced she is establishing the College, Career and Technical Transition Advisory Council.
The council is intended to provide "immediate insight and direction as the state welcomes new leadership to guide our work in postsecondary and career readiness," according to an announcement from the Tennessee Department of Education.
Pilgrim has been appointed to serve on the council along with Beth Duffield, senior vice president of education and workforce development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.
Duffield and Pilgrim have worked closely over the past few years to help develop programs within Rutherford County Schools that help students graduate with the necessary skills to fill high-need areas with local manufacturers and other businesses.