Reading, Writing … Machining: Learning Expands from Classroom to Floor

High school. The words spark images of hallways, lockers, classrooms, or perhaps a slate chalk board filled with homework instructions. But suppose for a minute that the school bell rang at a state-of-the art manufacturing facility in North Berwick, Maine.

While the Pratt & Whitney facility may not have a bell, it has become an institution of learning for some local high school students.

"I was really nervous, because I know nothing like this has ever happened before, letting high school students come work in a place like this," said Tom Teague, a student at Thornton Academy in Saco, Maine. "But I like working here."

Class is in session in North Berwick, Maine, for Tom Teague and classmate Nicholas Rizeakos.

"I was excited because my mom, my parents, they all said, it's good there, good career there, stuff like that," said Rizeakos from the manufacturing floor.

Valuable lessons about machining are being learned through a National Tool and Machine Association apprenticeship program between the high school and the Pratt & Whitney plant. Allan Young, is the associate head of Thornton Academy.

"It's all about hands-on learning, applied learning. It's all about working with machinery, today's updated technology and the machine tool precision programming and hopefully improve the job market and workforce development," Young said. "They could spend a whole career here. How many kids in high school today, can say they have a job that may lead them to a career?"

This program is unlike anything else in the country. Development comes from proper teaching, something students are finding at Thornton as well as Pratt & Whitney. Teachers are clearly mentors, but so too are veteran Pratt & Whitney employees like Ronald Enders, a cell leader at North Berwick.

"They want to learn, they want to earn money. These kids are hungry. So when these young kids are coming in, we bring in those young fellows into our fold and our company, but they're more like family to us," Enders said. "But you can see that same pride in these young kids as we see in our employees that have been here 25 or 30 years."

Teenagers – if the world is their oyster, then this Thornton pair has already cracked the shell. They are tackling school work, and work, in anticipation of a future career.

"(My parents) are really proud of me, they're wicked surprised I got in here," Teague said, walking back to his machine.

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