In the summer of 2015, I became superintendent of the River Forest School Corp. I participate in the READY NWI K-12 team, which works to ensure students are prepared for college and careers.
Our athletic teams are known as the Ingots, a nickname that aptly ties our community to the local steel mills where so many of our parents once worked.
(A steel ingot is a large bar or block that eventually is shaped and finished for an end product).
But our district had a problem: How could we live up to our unique nickname when we did not offer students a single class in career and technical education?
So, we went to work. We decided to go back to our steel mill roots with an Industrial Maintenance program in collaboration with Vincennes University. Even though our region has far fewer steel mill jobs, we knew demand for qualified workers remains high.
Every day, baby boomers are retiring, and that has companies like ArcelorMittal worried about finding skilled workers. The steel giant has partnered with Ivy Tech Community College to develop Steelworker for the Future, a two-year associate degree program that prepares the next generation of workers for its operations.
The Industrial Maintenance program will certainly offer our students a competitive edge for those positions.
I invite you to visit our high school and see for yourself our transformation that brings us into the 21st century.
In space that once housed a drafting and blueprint reading class, we now have a $400,000 state-of-the-art laboratory that allows students hands-on learning opportunities. It didn’t cost our community a dime. The equipment was a gift from Vincennes University.
Already, the lab is gaining attention from area school districts. That’s a big deal for us; it pleases our school board and parents that we are attracting students from other districts to a program with high value.
We currently have 26 juniors and seniors enrolled in the program, learning the principles of electricity and pneumatic power.
Last year, we were fortunate to hire John Francis Moreno as instructor of our program. Moreno — who spent 11 years in the HVAC business and 23 years as an instructor for adults — recently told a visitor to our school that he is “living the dream” of preparing high school students for great jobs.
Two of his students, brothers Zane and Zack Yost, share Moreno’s enthusiasm about the class and the equipment. The Yost brothers enjoy working with their hands and dream of becoming electricians or diesel mechanics.
“I could never sit behind a desk for eight hours,” Zane Yost said.
We’re also excited about programs that encourage students to consider teaching as a profession and a computer technical support program. The latter offers valuable Microsoft certifications to successful graduates of that class.
We want students to consider possible careers before they enter high school; last year, we required all of our eighth grade students to take a Career Pathways course. The semester-long program featured speakers representing various career fields.
River Forest is a blue collar, working class community that is proud to see the changes occurring at its high school. Parents understand the need to prepare their children for good paying, 21st century jobs.
My leadership team shares their pride. We may be one of the smallest school districts in Northwest Indiana, but we believe we’re moving to the front of the pack when it comes to preparing our students for life after high school.
Steve Disney is superintendent of the River Forest School Corp. and participates on the READY NWI K-12 team, working to ensure that students are prepared for college and careers. The opinions are the writer's.
The READY NWI partnership supports the unique aspects of community, school, and student, and embraces a commitment to regional thinking and acting in order to ensure prosperity by meeting the skill and education needs of employers throughout Northwest Indiana.