Middle School Step-Up Classes Highlight State-of-the-Art CTEP Technology Labs on High School Campuses

By Karen Lemon, ROP Middle School Career Exploration Coordinator

ROP digital class

The Regional Occupational Program (ROP), for the third year in a row, opened its doors to middle school students, inviting them to participate in free, summer Step-Up Classes at four different high school sites in Santa Cruz County. ROP has a long standing role of teaching Career Technical Education (CTE) classes for the county with over 60 instructors, serving more than 3000 high school students each year. What is not always visible are the state-of-the-art technology labs where students are taught, and this year over 75 middle school students and their parents from all over our county got to see what so many high school students have benefited from during their academic tenure.

Laurie Hilderbrand, instructor in Metal Fabrication and Artistic Welding for ROP at Watsonville and Soquel High Schools, when asked what her lesson plan for the week looked like, replied, “Materials layout, pattern making and transfer, plasma cutting, blacksmithing, forging, cold and hot metal forming, ornamental iron techniques, use of power tools, shop equipment and machinery, MIG (Metal Inert Gas Welding), product completion, finishing and painting.”

ROP metal calssMetal cutter

ROP student working on metal sculpture
The Artistic Welding Class was one of four classes offered this summer.

And the end product—”Oh, it’s summer and we live by the ocean so the students will be making an art mirror with a marine theme.” But what about all of those new terms like MIG. Laurie just smiled and said—”Oh that’s easy and the kids are going to like learning all of the technology.”

I met with the students at the end of the class and they told me that it was the “best class ever” and they “wished it would last longer.” One student even asked if there was somewhere in the community to continuing working with the processes that he had just learned.

I asked if any of them were afraid of using the big power tools and equipment. One student stated that she was worried at first about using the plasma cutter, but after she learned the safety measures and how to work it, she really liked it.

Evan Clark, for the second summer, taught an Introduction to Construction Class at Watsonville High School. His students learned about use of hand and power tools in his Construction Lab as they designed and built treasure boxes to take home.

ROP student holds up woodwork project “I really wanted them to have a great finished product so I decided to introduce them to our new CNC machine,” said Evan Clark. CNC stands for computer numerical control and is a process used in the manufacturing sector that involves the use of computers to control machine tools. Students first created a design of their choice in a software program, and then used the router connected to the CNC to etch the design into the top of their treasure box.

Students in all classes first learn safety measures, and the precision of the project requires applying mathematical principals, measuring, angles, and fractions.

Not only did students eagerly arrive at school, no less than five of Evan’s high school students came daily to help the younger students find their way around the lab. One parent said, “I really like the mentorship that my daughter experienced. Now she will know someone when she first goes to high school.”

Evan stated: “After last year’s Step-Up Class, I had students stopping by my lab telling me how they couldn’t wait to sign up for my regular class.” And that is exactly what ROP hoped for by offering these weeklong exploratory classes. They want students to know about all of the great offerings before students even arrive on a high school campus.

Student in front of green screenROP student working on computer


Seth Wilson is in his third year offering an Introduction to Digital Media Class in his uber-high-tech Digital Media Lab at Santa Cruz High School.

“I liked the green screen.”

“I think the photo unit was the best.”

“Animation and pixel art—I want to take more classes like this.”

Seth offered a variety of lessons, with students being able to take home their product on ROP provided thumb drives. Each student had their own computer to work on and could use their artistic creativity in new ways. “I also wanted to let students know that it is a new career world out there and that there are multiple pathways to have a career with an art background,” said Seth Wilson, who teaches full time and continues to work freelance as a Graphic Artist and Web Designer.

ROP student sanding wood

ROP student with drill talks with instructor

David Grant, San Lorenzo Valley High School ROP instructor in Construction, Engineering and Aquaculture, also offered students multiple lessons.

“My son will be going into 7th grade next year and until he took this class he did not seem very interested in anything. He came home from his class daily and told his family about everything he was learning and prefaced it all with ‘Mr. Grant said…’ Truly, Mr. Grant has left a lasting impression on our son and I know he will want to take this class in high school.” – Sonja Cruz

Students learned about the basics of how to engineer a bridge. They used rulers and calculations to design and build a bridge that must pass a stress test. They learned about basic soldering, made an electronic light, explored the aquaculture area and tested out solar panels.

“I just wish it could have been two weeks. I didn’t learn everything I wanted to learn—I want to learn more.”

These are the words many educators long to hear from students, “I want to learn more.”

ROP student solders circuit board

With the model provided by ROP for these summer Step-Up Classes, offering a fast-paced, hands-on introduction to high school technology classes, ROP hopes to continue to engage students in project-based learning that will guide them on their educational pathways to a secure and successful future in careers that they can be passionate about.

The Step-Up Classes have been funded for the past three years by an SB70 grant through Cabrillo College. While the SB70 grant-funding stream has ended, ROP is currently researching sustainable public and private funding sources for middle school Step-Up Classes.

If you would like more information about middle school career exploration classes and options please contact Karen Lemon, Middle School Career Exploration Coordinator.

If you would like more information about Regional Occupational Programs please visit our website.