ICE Program Provides Cool Opportunities for Leetonia Students

LEETONIA, Ohio – Using teamwork and creativity, Leetonia middle school and high school students attempted to use wooden planks to recreate the drawings on the “blueprint” cards in front of them.

Discussions became serious, and several things were built. A table was bumped – it shook, and some sticks fell. Through the activity, students learned to overcome challenges.

The KEVA Planks, a creative building educational toy, were part of the message brought to the Leetonia Innovative Career Exploration program this week by Allison Engstrom, project manager with the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition.

Engstrom came to the ICE program to talk with the students about manufacturing and the manufactures they have visited through their after-school program already this year. She talked to the students about some of the benefits in working in manufacturing, including some of the same problem-solving skills they had used to successfully build with the planks on their tables.

“They built a product. They followed a blueprint. They used creativity and teamwork, and I really think they had fun doing it,” Engstrom said, noting in speaking with the students she was pleasantly surprised about how much they have already learned about manufacturing since the program started in early October.

“It’s opening their eyes to opportunities that exist locally, and today was just to further expose them to new opportunities – share with them some statistics on career opportunities and why manufacturing may be good for them,” Engstrom said.

Leetonia students use wooden planks to recreate the drawings on the “blueprint” cards in front of them.

Engstrom is not the first visitor to the Leetonia ICE program. Sheri Lamancha, a sales coordinator from Humtown Products, has come to the classroom to do work-study projects. A mortgage expert from Team Dawes Fairway Independent Mortgage in Salem explained credit scores, credit cards and affordable house buying to the students. Students heard a first-hand account from an employee about his workday at Ultium Cells in Lordstown. They heard from the local Ohio State University Extension Office about some interesting jobs they could pursue.

Through ICE, some of the students also have visited industries in or near Leetonia, including Humtown Products and Pennex Aluminum. The students have learned about possible summer jobs, job shadowing and pre-apprenticeships available at local manufacturers.

Brayden Gorby, an eighth-grade student, already knew about Pennex before he took a tour of the facility recently. His older brother worked with industrial dies there.

Now after taking a tour, Brayden is interested in possibly doing the same. While Brayden says he has a lot of careers he is interested in exploring, many of them require a college education, which he already knows is expensive.

“Pennex is one of my main concerns right now as far as where I want to be in a couple of years,” he said. “Just because they offer so many benefits as far as paying for college if you work there for a year, health insurance benefits are good. There’s a multiple of opportunities there as far as advancements, and they’re building it up every day.”

He is also interested in engineering and the medical field. He plans to stay in the ICE program from now until he graduates and take advantage of more tours, speakers and possibly job shadowing.

Another eighth-grade student, Ebony Melchor-Arroyo, said growing up she has changed her ideas of what she wants to do monthly, including being a nurse or doctor, but manufacturing was not on that lengthy list. After going to some manufacturing plants, she could see herself working there.

“I used to think of them as just more labor, guy’s things, not something for me because they are dirty. But when I actually went there and saw how everything was, I saw a lot more opportunity with it,” Ebony said.

She and Brayden both said they learned when the speaker came to talk about credit and money issues.

“When you are younger, you think you’re going to have half a million dollars and a mansion, but it kind of shows us what’s actually for real,” she said, adding they still tell them if they want to make something happen, they can.

Allison Engstrom, project manager with MVMC, talks to students.

The same was true for the KEVA building project they participated in earlier. Ebony said it got her out of her comfort zone and pushed her to do something she really does not usually believe she can do.

“They love hands-on activities. They do a good job working together,” said Angela Dunn, a Leetonia teacher who is among those working with the after-school program. She added that after the first of the year, students are going to be presented with a real-world problem, brainstorm solutions and possibly create a public service announcement about it.

Funded by a 21st Century Community Learning grant providing nearly $1 million over five years, the program is giving about 25 students a chance to see things and places they may not normally get to see. They start most evenings with 30 minutes of homework, prepare snacks together for the week, do team-building activities and have a visitor such as Enstrom speak to them.

And then there are field trips, fully paid for by the grant.

Laurie Crigan, high school Spanish teacher at Leetonia, said through a field trip to Jalisco’s Restaurant in Salem, students will not just learn about food service jobs, but also will have an opportunity to practice their language skills and order in Spanish.

A recent trip to the Carnegie Science Museum made a big impact on students, including some who may not often leave Leetonia. Dunn said at least one student was in awe to see the stadium and skyscrapers in downtown Pittsburgh.

“It is more than we thought it was ever going to be,” Dunn said, adding students have gotten even more out of it than she thought when it was proposed by Ryan O’Donnell, the lead instructor. Students have been involved in community service activities as well, including working the Veterans Day and Santa breakfasts.

“It’s the best thing that has ever happened to this school, and I love every second of it,” said Brad Katzman, another Leetonia teacher.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.