Early success for Rock Falls manufacturing Career Pathways

Matt Boostrom, industrial arts teacher at Rock Falls High School, makes a presentation to the board of education on Wednesday.

ROCK FALLS – Rock Falls High School had four students complete supervised training in works-site manufacturing, part of earning a Career Pathways designation on their high school diploma.

“We got good reviews from all the students,” said Matt Boostrom, industrial arts instructor during a report at the April school board meeting.

Many schools, including Rock Falls High School, are developing the education and teacher career component as part of Pathways – the state mandated diploma program to encourage students to gain certification.

But few are as far along as Rock Falls in its manufacturing offering.

“I haven’t heard of any other that is sending students out,” Boostrom said.

For example, Boostrom said, two of those students took part in the employee onboarding and hands-on experience offered at IFG Group (Innovative Fluid Handling Group) in Rock Falls. The students devoted their spring break to getting 40 of their 60 hours of required supervision there. In addition to the work experience, students received a workplace evaluation, too.

Rock Falls Superintendent Ron McCord talked about the importance of that 60-hour experience.

“You get a full taste of what manufacturing life is,” McCord said.

Area schools have been developing their own Pathways programs in association with the Regional Office of Education 47 and Sauk Valley Community College over the past three years. The goal to be locally certified is so that whatever trade school or collegiate training is required in the specified fields – students will be able to return to their home communities and gain job interviews.

“The teacher shortage is real, but so is the manufacturers’ struggle to get people in there as well,” McCord said.

McCord said the school will be working with multiple manufacturers to broaden the experience and widen the opportunities. While manufacturing students did the bulk of their supervised experience over spring break during this trial run, the hope is that because the high school dismisses at 2:30 p.m., other scheduling opportunities will be available.

The manufacturing Pathways program was part of what Boostrum discussed in his appearance at the April school board meeting.

Industrial technologies remains a robust part of the Rock Falls curriculum, Boostrum said. The department has acquired new machines through a federal surplus program – supplementing some of the school’s existing woods machines that date back to 1957.

The welding lab has been updated and expanded and there are plans to expand the electric service area.

There are now three CNC machines in the metals lab and two in the woods lab. CNC – computer numerical control – are machines students can use to program for a specific task.

Boostrum also said 3D printing has also been incorporated into the curriculum.

The school offers three dual-credit courses with SVCC: Welding 1, Metals 1 and CADD – computer aided design and drafting.

Inflation is hitting the program, Boostom explained to the board. Costs for lumber are up 37%, metal 50% and welding supplies up 15%.

McCord said the administration has worked hard to continue the program.

Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for Saukvalley.com and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.