Schools Changing to Meet Demands of Marcellus Shale

Wheeling Intelligencer
26 February 2014

By Sarah Haemon, Staff Writer
MOUNDSVILLE - As the oil and gas industry booms in the area, local schools are looking for ways to restructure curriculum and beef up career and technical classes in order to meet the demands of a new economy.

Schools in both West Virginia and Ohio are asking oil and gas representatives what skills students need to develop in high school in order to join the industry soon after graduation.

According to Doug Thoburn, superintendent for Union Local Schools, the school district is putting more focus on what schools can do to prepare students academically for the oil and gas fields. The district is developing programs focusing on science and technology to give students basic critical thinking skills the industry has requested.

"We've had some good conversations in the local district on what we can do to prepare our kids to go work in the evolving market of oil and gas," Thoburn said. "We've had conversations with oil and gas companies, and students need some basic skills such as problem solving, a basic understanding of science and a good bit of math is involved. It's a matter of sitting down and getting a list of skills from the industry."

Thoburn said district administrators and teachers plan to meet with representatives from the training branches of local companies to discuss what specific skills students need to enter the workforce after they get a diploma. Then, it's a matter of tailoring the district's curriculum to those needs.

One answer is implementing what's known as STEM classes - science, technology, engineering and math - at the local level. STEM blends these fields in a hands-on, experimental setting to help students engage in problem-based learning.

The Marcellus Shale boom in our region has led local school districts to focus more with students on just what's happening, and how it's changing the area.

Many local schools also are working with the oil and gas industry to learn what skills students can be taught in high school that will help them land a job in the industry.

STEM already is making its way into local classrooms. Thoburn said Union Local is discussing how to implement STEM within the district's budget and making improvements in technology to prepare for technology-based curriculum.

Cameron Middle School also implemented Project Lead the Way this year, which provides a "STEM education" to teach engineering-based lessons in areas such as design software and robotics.

Michael Hince, superintendent of Marshall County Schools, said West Virginia has put a huge emphasis on career and technical education in recent years. The challenge, he said, is to have classrooms emulate the workplace in a realistic way.

Hince cited Cameron High School's autotech program, in which customers from the community can bring in vehicles to be repaired right in the school's shop.

"It's real-world experience," Hince said. "It's a different industry that's developing. What are the expectations? We want to emulate the workplace environment. The push is to develop classrooms that look like the workplace."

Hancock County Schools also has responded to the growing oil and gas industry by providing a new diesel engine repair class in the Rockefeller Career Center. According to Superintendent Suzan Smith, there is a "definite need" for students familiar with diesel engines, since they are the engines in heavy trucks used in the industry.

The Rockefeller Center is also in its second year of a new CDL certification program, in which adult students can earn the CDL license in a 12-week program. At the end, students have gained the experience needed to drive heavy trucks for the Marcellus Shale industry.

"There's a great amount of emphasis on career and technical education, because honestly, that is where all the jobs are today," Smith said. "If you look at the workforce, that's where the employment opportunities are. We have students graduating high school who are very much interested in joining the industry."