Experience Is the Best Teacher

Cincinnati Public Schools helps students get hands-on experience, preparing students for college, careers or whatever might come next. It's a refreshingly practical approach. 

Cincinnati Public Schools has made sweeping changes to its high school programs, making sure every CPS student is driven to be prepared for college, career and beyond.

With a new 7-12 high school curriculum, starting the high school model two years earlier, seventh and eighth graders are now taught at a high school level by content specialists instead of elementary teachers who teach all subjects on a general level.

Plus, programs ranging from the Culinary Arts Program at Dater High School, the incredible Zoo Academy based at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden run by Hughes STEM High School, and the Construction Technologies and Advanced Manufacturing Technologies programs at Woodward Career Technical School, are preparing students for real-life like never before.

From encouraging job shadowing and work study programs to hands-on intensive experiences and courses for college credit in the classroom, students are gaining the ability to walk out of high school with far more career-worthy experience than they would otherwise have at that point in their lives.

Students who are part of Dater High School’s Culinary Arts Program leave with hundreds of hands-on hours, putting them in a great position to begin college-level Culinary work at Cincinnati State or culinary-specific institutions like the Culinary Arts Institute.

“The culinary arts are acquired skills,” says Chef Mike McNeil, who directs the Culinary Program at Dater High School, “It takes years to acquire skills. It’s no different than sports where you keep practicing and practicing to get better. When you have the hours in the kitchen, it shows in your work.”

Recently, his class was working on baking and decorating techniques, creating gingerbread houses during the holiday season. Students used innovative measures such as rolling out Jolly Ranchers candy to create a stained glass windows effect.

They also learn how to properly work with kitchen knives, how to work with breads and sauces, how to identify choice cuts of beef and to prepare them, and much more.

“Throughout schooling, whether it be in math, science, history or something else, having it be relevant and hands-on when at all possible is a tremendous advantage,” says Dater High School Principal Stephen Sippel. “With the Culinary Arts Program, having hands-on experience is built-in, and even better, it’s edible. The students have a reward for the work and incentive to do good work. They want to make sure their spaces are sanitized and that they’ve followed safety and health procedures. They want to make sure they’ve created their best work, because they’re the ones who are going to eat it.” 

They also cook for others, getting hands-on experience catering the senior dinner and also preparing and serving food for a Memorial Day program which serves veterans from across the city.

Sippel explains that the Culinary Arts Program fits very well into Dater’s college preparatory curriculum and requires high academic status to participate. “It’s a very sophisticated subject, a very sophisticated career and I’m very happy it’s part of our school. It lends itself to this view of the world and of ourselves that is complex and at the same time very practical. Education can be challenging and rigorous but at the same time fun and exciting. Students in Culinary Arts experience that.”

Another unparalleled program is the Zoo Academy of Hughes STEM High School, where students spend their eleventh and twelfth grade years on zoo grounds at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

This college-preparatory program allows students to work directly with zoo keepers exploring educational topics and hands-on experience related to science, plants and animals.

The program has been so successful that 20 percent of the zoo keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo were once part of the Cincinnati Public School’s Zoo Academy.

“ This program is a model for excellence,” says Hughes S TEM High School Principal Kathy Wright. “It’s the only one in the country that allows students to daily interact with zoo keepers

and animals in hands-on application. It’s really, really cool. Students take their classes at the zoo in the education facility. All the technology is there, but walk out the door and there are giraffes and other animals within steps. The environment of the zoo with the school right in the center of it is a dynamic learning space. Real world application of the content is literally within an arms reach of the classroom.”

She explains that students are still responsible for rigorous coursework, and may complete upwards of 13 credit hours of college work by the time they graduate the program. “Students have all the same state requirements for English, mathematics and other topics but the rest of the time that would be used for electives is spent in courses directly aligned to the zoo. Students can study horticulture, plant and animal care, physiology, botany classes and more. Everything is strategic and aligned to what the zoo keepers do in their work so that students have a bank of knowledge to draw from. So when they work with the zoo keepers they are not just trying to figure it out, they’ve studied relevant topics.”

Wright says she and the Zoo Academy team, including lead teacher Glen Schulte, want to help every student succeed. “We care a lot about our students, but we demand a high level of commitment and have high expectations of them. We believe every student is entitled to an awesome education and want to be in partnership with the students and their families to help them be successful.”

While Zoo Academy students learn a lot about natural plant and animal life, students at Cincinnati Public School’s Woodward Career Technical High School are learning about manufacturing and engineering.

While these programs have vastly different coursework, they both share the same unique advantage of helping students be prepared for the future with hands-on skill sets to use in college or in a career upon graduation.

At Woodward, students can choose to study Health Technologies, Advanced Manufacturing Technologies or Construction Technologies.

The laboratory and machining equipment students have access to is the same high-level equipment companies use to train their work force, says Advanced Manufacturing Technologies program facilitator David Hapner.

Construction students have the chance to build a home within their lab complete with electric, plumbing and more. The Advanced Manufacturing Technologies students learn hands-on skills with machining tools that allow them to make precision cuts and engravings, as well as turning and milling.

“Everything we do is to help our students move on to a five-year engineering degree program,” says Hapner, “and they are able to graduate our program with the skills and accreditation necessary to be a certified production technician. They take classes in electricity and electronic mechanisms, fluid dynamics and thermodynamics and more.”

He explains that students need to achieve four components to become a certified production technician, all of which they can do at Woodward, including “safety and work teams, quality and measurement, production and processes and machine maintenance.”

This and other certifications lead to job readiness and college readiness. “We regularly meet with Partners for a Competitive Work Force to help define what we do with our students,” explains Hapner. “We aim to prepare our students with the skills that employers and colleges are looking for in their applicants.”

Dodi Tatho, another Woodward faculty member, says students are also able to get hands-on experience creating prototypes using 3D printers. He says many employers requiring these type of engineering, technical design and construction technologies skills have jobs left open when there are a lack of applicants with the skills needed. “A lot of welding jobs, for instance, are going unfilled because there are not enough qualified people.”

Cincinnati Public Schools is working to prepare its students to be ready for those and other positions that they are interested in, with senior work study, job shadowing opportunities and more.

“All our students do senior capstones,” says Hapner. “They take a manufacturing project and work in conjunction with one of our partners such as General Electric or Toyota. They are presented with a manufacturing problem that the company is looking to resolve or has already resolved and the students have to come up with solutions. They are able to work directly with engineers and see what the problem-solving process looks like within the industry.”