Beaufort High students learn engineering basics for college credit

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comNovember 28, 2011 

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Students at Beaufort High School can now earn college credit for their models of bridges or their work on automated machines.

The school is the second in the district to be a certified Project Lead the Way school. PLTW is a national program that provides pre-engineering curriculum for middle and high schools.

Students can earn 12 college credit hours if they score an 85 percent average or better in the project-based courses and then pass an end-of-course exam. The credit is awarded through the University of South Carolina.

The program also is available at Battery Creek High School, which has been certified since 2008. PLTW classes also are offered at H.E. McCracken Middle and Bluffton High schools. Ralph Lataille, the district's career and technology education coordinator, said courses at those schools could be certified this spring.

Nationwide, more than 4,000 schools participate in PLTW, according to the program's website. The courses provide an introduction to engineering concepts, as well as courses in aerospace or civil engineering.

In Beaufort County, the program is funded mostly by federal grants, Lataille said. It can cost about $25,000 per school to begin PLTW, most of which covers computer and equipment expenses.

To gain PLTW certification, Lataille said, teachers and guidance counselors undergo training. The school must also have required equipment and computer software and an advisory council of teachers, engineers, parents and students who review the curriculum and latest engineering advancements to suggest improvements.

Beaufort High was cleared for certification last May after it passed a site visit by the S.C. Department of Education and a USC official, teacher Doug Plank said. Now the program can lead to college credit.

The courses are mostly structured around projects. Projects can include building and testing the strength of a model bridge or building a machine that sorts glass, aluminum, steel, ceramic and wood marbles, Plank said.

Typically, Plank's classes review the math and science skills necessary for each project before beginning. They revisit the skills when the project is completed, using their real-life example to explain them.

"What's happening with a lot of them is that the math was boring and difficult," Plank said. "Now the light is coming on, and they're getting it."

Plank said that when the program began at Beaufort High three years ago, 40 students enrolled in the first course. This year, 140 students are enrolled.

"We're pleased with that," Beaufort High principal Dan Durbin said. "It shows that there's something of substance there, that the kids are telling other kids and that they're sticking with it instead of just taking one course; they're deciding to take on the challenge."

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at

Related content

  1. Project Lead the Way
  2. Battery Creek leading the way via engineering; Jan. 19, 2009
  3. Battery Creek High gets accredited to offer college credits; Dec. 9, 2008
  4. Battery Creek students are flocking to engineering program -- enrollment triples; June 20, 2008

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