“Signing Day” was a big event for Haden Gresser. No, he wasn’t signing a letter-of-intent to join an NCAA athletic program. The graduating senior from Horace Mann High School, North Fond du Lac, signed on as a sheet metal pre-apprentice with J.F. Ahern Co., a manufacturer in Fond du Lac. His school and community couldn’t have been prouder. More than that, by working together on high quality CTE, his school and community made it possible.
The career and technical education (CTE) program at Horace Mann offers a sequence of courses in both woods and welding. Haden had enjoyed building things “since Legos,” so he started taking CTE classes as soon as he could. He was able to take two years of woods and two years of welding.
But the CTE program was bolstered with additional quality elements that made Haden’s experience richer. CTE teacher Mike McDowell has tapped alumni and businesses within the community to broaden the experiences available to students. For example, the program offers students regular opportunities to visit area companies so they can see what different job sites look and feel like.
For students interested in the building trades, the program offers a Building and Construction Class, an intensive, year-long course. It’s made possible by a partnership with local contractors Cardinal Concrete Construction, which has alumni ties to the school, and Smith Builders.
Haden’s interest was in welding, though. For students like him, the program has developed a partnership with the local economic advisory board, Envision Greater Fond du Lac, which offers schools its Project G.R.I.L.L. (Growing Readiness in Learning and Leading). Project G.R.I.L.L. teaches students all the steps of taking an idea from concept through production with the end result being a fully functional grill. The design process and fabrication of these complex grills takes an entire school year during which each student group is mentored by both their CTE teacher and a manufacturing partner.
Haden spent his senior year as a youth apprentice with J.F. Ahern Co. “It really opened my eyes to all the different trades,” he says. It also laid the ground work for his pre-apprenticeship at the company after graduation.
Haden’s experience couldn’t have been accomplished without the combined efforts of the school and the community: a supportive superintendent; a school counselor who understands that the community “has a passion for the trades”; and a CTE teacher who sees his goal as finding placements for students who want to go into the trades and reaching out to tradespeople in the community to make it happen.
For Haden, it all comes down to this: “[Signing with Ahern] was a really cool feeling. All my teachers were so proud of me. McDowell gave me a huge high five.”