Out-of-classroom learning helps student advance toward goals

COLUMBIA ― As a ninth-grader at Columbia High School, Cedric Brown was looking forward to studying computer programming when he went to college. But he had second thoughts the following year when 15,000 computer programmers were laid off in the United States.

"I knew I had to change my career," Brown says. "That's when I sat down with my guidance counselor and found that my high school offered heating and air conditioning classes."

During his junior year at Columbia High, after one semester of heating and air conditioning classes, Brown began interning at Total Comfort, a local heating and air conditioning company. He shadowed a service technician and quickly acquired hands-on experience, as well as a knack for the profession.

"I found that I enjoyed working outside, working with my hands, and not having a boss looking over my shoulder all the time," Brown says. "I worked full time the whole summer to get a feel of whether I wanted to pursue it as a possible career. I did."

As part of a cooperative education program, Total Comfort offered Brown a job his senior year of high school. He went to school from 8 a.m. to noon, and then he worked until 5 p.m. at Total Comfort. "They paid me decent money," he adds, "which was a plus."

The co-op program led Brown to adjust his education plans. After graduating from high school in 2002, Brown earned his associate's degree in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) from Midlands Technical College. He is now working on a bachelor's degree in computer science at the University of South Carolina, and his combined degrees will qualify him to work as a control specialist in the HVAC industry.

Brown's experience is an example of the Education and Economic Development Act of 2005 in action. It was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Mark Sanford to provide all students with the opportunity to connect the education they receive in public schools with their plans for their future working lives. The legislation encourages students to customize their high school coursework to fit their life ambitions and fosters links such as internships in local businesses to help students learn on the job. The EEDA also requires upgraded guidance counseling services for students and establishment of plans to help students at risk of dropping out of high school.

"This experience has been phenomenal," Brown says. "The best thing is not being locked in. When I was in high school, I didn't know there were so many careers you could go into just in the heating and air conditioning field."

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