Early Innovators Academy Opens Pathways

WARREN, Ohio – Travis Laneve, a sophomore at McDonald High School, likes to learn by doing and he enjoys the opportunity to do that in the Early Innovators Academy at Trumbull Career & Technical Center.

He’s enjoying hands-on learning and exposure to different career fields.

“I noticed there was a lot of it that I wanted to be introduced to – engineering, agriculture, biomedical, everything like that,” Travis says. “I took it as a chance to get introduced to a bunch of programs and maybe to see what path I want to take in the future.”

This marks the second year for the academy, which is for ninth and 10th graders from the 20 member school districts in Trumbull County.

The program opened in fall 2022 to 50 ninth graders selected from a lottery of applicants. They moved to 10th grade this fall and 50 ninth-graders started in the program.

“The Early Innovators Academy, or EIA as we like to call it, is a career exploration program for freshmen and sophomores that gives them a glimpse at STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] careers,” says Cara DeToro, TCTC academic supervisor. “We focus on engineering, manufacturing, biomedical and a lot of other things as well.”

TCTC considers the job market and the needs of industry in developing new programs and initiatives.

“The goal behind it is to help with that career awareness piece,” DeToro says. “The state of Ohio pushes for students to be well informed about what their options are.”

It’s also a pathway for students who choose to stay at TCTC for their junior and senior years.

“Our goal is to help students determine what is their ‘E,’” DeToro says. “We want them to find that. So, are they going to be enrolled, enlisted or employed?”

The academy is being well received by students, she says.

“Students really like what they’re doing,” DeToro says. “This is a nontraditional learning situation. It’s not bell to bell. It’s not one class and transition to the next and the next. It is embedded academics within their career tech classes. They are working with each other constantly.”

Travis Laneve, a sophomore at McDonald High School, works on a putt-putt course.

Students collaborate and they like the problem-solving aspects of what they learn.

“It’s just much more hands-on,” DeToro says. “They’re always making something, creating something, solving a problem. It’s just a little bit different approach than a traditional school.”

The hands-on aspect is one of the things that Travis, the sophomore from McDonald, likes most.

“We do a lot of hands-on projects,” he says. “Even our academic classes, they’re a little different.”

Students study science, English, math and history. Those concepts also get incorporated into hands-on projects, he explains.

“It helps you get deeper learning with all of them,” he says.

His favorite part is the engineering and manufacturing course because it allows him and his classmates to build things.

The academy also allows students to go to other programs at TCTC and shadow juniors and seniors.

“That was a fun thing, too. Because you’re actually learning things on top of that,” Travis says.

He plans to continue at TCTC next year to study aviation and drone technology, which will debut at the school in the fall. After graduation, he plans to enlist in the U.S. Air Force and hopes to become a pilot.

“This is helping me with team-building skills. It’s helping me with leadership even more,” Travis says. “Even with a bunch of new people, as soon as you’re thrown into a team, you immediately work together. That helps, especially with going into the military.”

Marissa Brown, pre-engineering and introduction to manufacturing teacher, came to the academy after teaching in two other school districts and initiating STEM programs there.

“STEM education is always evolving and changing and for me, I was looking for the next new challenge in my career,” Brown says.

She was excited to work with other like-minded educators who aim to challenge students and make learning rigorous and meaningful.

“We are more teachers as facilitators than we are direct instructors,” Brown says.

The teachers give background information to support student learning  but they learn with the students, she says. The curriculum evolves to meet the changing needs of engineering and manufacturing.

“I look at CTE [career tech education] instruction as a journey that’s personal to the student,” she says. “They’re going to get out of it what they put into it.”

The teacher gives students parameters. But there’s no one right answer, Brown says.

Last year, ninth graders designed a miniature golf course to build on campus. They developed the budget, shopped for the pieces and proposed the idea to the TCTC Board of Education, which selected the winning design.

Maddison Pineda and Aiden Soltis, freshmen at Bristol High School, work on a catapult prototype.

The work, started through a grant from education company Batelle, continues this year with the 10th graders installing the course.

Maddison Pineda, a freshman from Bristol High School, likes how the academy differs from traditional school. On a morning in late October, she and her classmates were building small-scale catapults in the pre-engineering technologies course.

Each team designed a catapult to hurl a marshmallow 14 feet.

“It’s a good change from normal school,” Maddison says. “You get a lot of hands-on opportunities and to expand your knowledge on how to make things, problem solving, teamwork. It’s really helped me with a bunch of skills I didn’t get in my home school.”

You have to learn to work with other people, share ideas and collaborate, she says.

Maddison plans to be a psychiatrist because she likes to help others. She’s thinking about following the human resources career pathway at TCTC during her junior and senior years.

“TCTC is something I would recommend parents to look into and students to want to come here because it’s a very positive environment,” Maddison says. “You get to do so many more things that you wouldn’t be offered at your home schools.”

Pictured at top: Marissa Brown is the pre-engineering instructor in the Early Innovators Academy at Trumbull Career & Technical Center; Cara DeToro is academic supervisor.