By JUDY SHERIDAN
Retired USAF Staff Master Sergeant Vernon Anderson, who initiated the partnership announced in October between Aledo ISD, Aledo ISD Education Foundation, Weatherford College and Bell Helicopter, is more than optimistic about what’s ahead as the entities work together to groom a better-prepared work force.
“I live in Aledo. I believe in first place,” Anderson told those gathered for the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday at New River Fellowship.
“I want to lead the way here in Parker County in showing not just the state of Texas but the nation that this county, this high school, is going to lead the way in showing everyone else how to build a proper STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] program.”
The work force development program will involve training curriculum developed by Bell and opportunities for students to apply their knowledge to real-life problems.
Anderson, a senior technical instructor in Bell’s Technical Training Department and a member of the Aledo ISD Education Foundation, said the collaboration began with Aledo student Carter Haber, who sent him a robotics slide presentation.
“I know his mother didn’t help him, because it had a couple grammatical errors in it, and she’s a perfectionist,” he said, crediting Carter with the vision. “I thought if a young man like that can have an innovative idea, then let’s act on it.”
Getting the sanction of decision makers was easy, he said, with Aledo ISD superintendent Derek Citty on board from the beginning.
The first thing he said was, “When do we start?” he said.
Aledo’s unique students are key, Anderson said.
“I’ve never seen a group of kids this smart, and I’ve been all over the world. Most of the communities we work in are communities that need our help. We are asking Aledo for help, because you guys will be providing some good students.”
Anderson cast the school district as the foundation and Bell as the facilitator. He stressed that the program should begin earlier than high school, at the seventh or eighth grade level.
“We’re going to bring our knowledge and experience into Aledo High School and hopefully in the near future the middle school as well, because the earlier we get our kids engaged in the application of what they’re learning, the better off they’ll be,” he said.
Field trips, similar to the one the Aledo Robotics Club recently took of Bell’s robotics department — where students experienced a new robotic transport system — will show students how their knowledge can be applied.
“We can’t afford to put all the equipment needed in a high school,” he said, noting the company’s donation of two helicopter mock-ups to AHS, “but we can bring students to us.”
Anderson said Bell would ask its partners to provide guest speakers, facilitators for the new engineering courses, in-house tools and equipment and dual-credit opportunities.
Aledo ISD has committed to providing general career explorations at the ninth-grade level, he said, and basic vocabulary skills and knowledge of tool usage in 10th grade.
Applying their knowledge and skills at the service level happens junior year.
“At Bell we’re going to provide specialized real-world projects to get our kids more involved and help them decide what career paths they want to take,” he said.
Senior year will challenge students in terms of depth and complexity.
“For me, it’s never been about the grades you make,” he said. “It’s about what you learn in that challenge.”
Once labeled as a special education student due to his dyslexia, Anderson’s gift with numbers was recognized by a computer science teacher. After high school he received a Bachelors in Aeronautics with Aeronautical Management Certification and a Masters in Aeronautics and Safety Management.
His choice as a keynote speaker was sparked by a fall survey showing that chamber members wanted to learn more about partnering with educational institutions to prepare young people for work.
“Even though we are leading the way, bringing it into the school systems,” Anderson said, “we invite and we challenge every business in Parker County to follow this path because our children are the most important part of this.”