Robots, algae and control towers – oh my the lessons to be learned.

Robots, algae and control towers – oh my the lessons to be learned. 

That, in a nutshell, provides the framework of the High School High Tech program at Port St. Joe High School. Students in the program recently visited Tyndall Air Force Base where they learned about robotic weapons, alternative energies and controlling the skies as the jets fly overhead.

High School High Tech is sponsored by the Dyslexia Research Institute of Tallahassee, whose founder is county resident Dr. Pat Hardman, with partial funding from the ABLE Trust and Vocational Rehabilitation.

The program was established at Port St. Joe High School four years ago to serve students experiencing learning challenges in traditional classroom settings or curricula.

High School High Tech is for high-functioning students with disabilities who have an Individual Education Plan used to map progress for students with learning challenges.

High School High Tech aims to mold those students for the workforce, and does so on several levels, said director Lynn Hauck, two years removed from retiring as a science teacher at Port St. Joe Middle School.

“I was volunteering out here anyway so when I got this opportunity to still be involved and get paid a little bit, I was very interested,” Hauck said. “This is a multi-faceted program.”

Focus is improve school readiness to improve the odds of graduating in good standing; in doing that broadening a student’s horizons to consider college and to assist in making that transition; and providing exposures to workplace experiences that students would embrace.

“It’s really a career entry program,” Hauck said. “We are trying to get them to broaden their horizons. They receive experiences that they might not otherwise get and exposure to jobs they wouldn’t normally have.”

The group – some 19 students are currently participating in the program – meets monthly at lunch time during which they discuss a variety of subjects pertaining to college, vocational and career training.

Much of it is basic, such as proper etiquette for interviews – no jeans, collared shirts, pants tucked in, eye contact.

“A lot of it is getting into fundamentals,” Hauck said. “With some of them, a lot of it is drawing them out, but the older students are pretty gung-ho. They see the benefits.”

The benefits include job shadowing days in small businesses around town and summer employment for some. Students, by attending and participating in various events and programs within the HSHT umbrella, also earn points.

Eighty-points earns a student a refurbished laptop computer from the Dyslexia Research Institute. Sixty points earns summer employment.

“That is the ultimate, they work for three weeks during the summer and if they stay with it they get a monetary bonus at the end,” Hauck said. “A lot of times that job does grow out of the job shadowing. We’ve had several students work for CVS and for Fairpoint (Communications).

“And they do have to participate. This is a real job. We had 11 kids that worked this past summer and that is really good.”

One of those was Torey Williams, a junior who worked this past summer at Fairpoint. That exposure has led the possibility that Williams will pursue a job in computers or technology.

“I do like working with computers,” Williams said. “The program has really taught me responsibility for work, for learning something and sticking to it.

“It makes me feel more comfortable about going out and getting a job. I can put on my resume that I participated in the program and what I learned.”

  She'noya Fennell worked at CVS last summer. Also a junior, she is focused on getting the computer she fell a points shy of last year, a computer Williams earned.

“The program has given me more insight into what field I wanted to go into,” Fennell said, adding she hopes to pursue a career in the medical field. “Actually being able to work with people in that field helped a lot.

“You are put in the field you want to be in and you learn so much about it.”

The trip to Tyndall was another of the perks for students in High School High Tech, who regularly experience workplace field trips during the school year.

Their host was Barbara Copeland Civ USAF ACC 325 FSS/FSFR who worked with Hauck to organize the visit.

 Students visited Wright Laboratories and were exposed to alternative energies for use in countries such as Afghanistan. Experiments were on going in the growing and the use of algae as an alternate, replenishable fuel.

They visited the "tent city" where solar panels were built into the top of tents to test for use in lighting, electricity and air conditioning.

They also visited the robotics laboratory where robots were used for a wide variety of functions, such as mine detection and sweeping, perimeter patrol and use in checkpoints. The students were able to manipulate the robots in simulating the observation, retrieval and detonation of bombs.

“That was pretty cool,” Williams said. “We got to play with robots. They were showing us all kinds of things they could do. They are so advanced.” 

Students also went to the flight line where the air traffic controllers worked and trained. There is a state of the art simulator for training air traffic controllers which the students were able to see in action.

“You learn all about the tower and the responsibilities,” Fennell said. “I thought that was very interesting.”