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MWDN: Program helps teachers bring real-world experience into classroom

October 9, 2009

October 9, 2009
By John Hilliard,The MetroWest Daily News

NATICK — In any economy, it’s important for students to learn the skills they need to get good jobs.

“It’s even more critical in a recession,” said Andrew Hollins, a math teacher at Natick High School. “No matter what, companies are always looking for top talent.”

Hollins demonstrated the importance of showing high schoolers the practical use of their algebra knowledge yesterday to a group of local legislators – state Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, state Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, and state Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, as well as Lt. Gov. Tim Murray. Murray and each legislator worked on an in-class problem with students.

During the summers of 2007 and 2008, Hollins participated in a program organized by the Metro South/West Regional Employment Board that pairs teachers with area high-tech companies. The goal is to train teachers in real-world problem-solving in engineering, science and other fields, and bring those experiences back to the classroom in the form of lessons for students.

Hollins spent those two summers working with Raytheon on engineering projects, including installing technology in the control tower at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

He spent part of a lecture yesterday demonstrating how algebra is used in satellite communications.

“My job is to take what is being done at Raytheon Co., and make it accessible to students,” said Hollins, who has taught at Natick High School for five years. “Math is something you experience…part of that is learning how math is used in life, finance and business.”

The program is sponsored by more than 35 corporate sponsors. It has funded more than 80 teacher postings, according to the employment board. Spilka said state funding for the program was cut, but officials are seeking grants to make up the difference.

The program includes firms involved in engineering, finance, biotech and other fields.

“It’s a program I believe in. It’s successful,” said Spilka.

Natick High School Principal John Hughes said teachers serve as examples for their students.

“They have the opportunity to see their teachers be lifelong learners…you give life, relevance and vibrance to kids” about the lessons they learn, said Hughes.

Murray said a board would be announced later this fall to begin coordinating similar programs for teachers across the state. He said starting students early on a high-tech career track is important for the state’s future economic health.

“If we can’t fill those jobs, local businesses will be less competitive and productive,” said Murray. “If we lose that edge, we risk falling behind.”

(John Hilliard can be reached at 508-626-4449 or john.hilliard@cnc.com.)

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