Students at Brown County Middle School are learning valuable skills every day that guide their future decisions.
One classroom is helping them gain skills in not only a specialized field, but also employability skills they will take with them after high school graduation.
Dan Lewellen is the career and technical education teacher at the middle school and supervises Eaglet Manufacturing, an engineering class designed for eighth graders.
Construction for the Eaglet Manufacturing lab started in the fall of 2020, after teacher Dan Lewellen had a conversation that summer about the potential for such a program with former Brown County Schools Superintendent Laura Hammack.
He knew that they wanted to do something like Eagle Manufacturing at Brown County High School, but at the junior high level.
Brown County Schools received a $500,000 grant in 2018 from the ROI Ready Schools Initiative, and about $21,500 of that money was set aside to help fund the student-run manufacturing business Eagle Manufacturing in Brown County High School.
The program began in the fall of that same year and trains students in administration, engineering design, CNC machining and graphics/promotional materials.
Modeled in the same way, but on a smaller scale, the Eaglet Manufacturing class was up and running in the fall of 2020, and the 1,800-square-foot classroom is now home to high tech equipment like laser engravers and application tables.
Two years prior to Eaglet Manufacturing the classroom was home to woodshop.
Equipment for the program has been funded by bond money, the rest has been donor funded, Lewellen said. The large application table was purchased last year with money donated by Cummins.
Lewellen’s degree is in technology and engineering education, which used to be industrial technology education. His passions are 3D modeling and graphic design.
“It came at a great time for me, I was eight years into teaching, doing a lot of the same thing, so this was a refresh for me, being able to figure out equipment and do new things,” he said.
“It was time to do some different things and make different things happen.”
There are 19 students in Eaglet Manufacturing this year. Last year there were 22. There were nearly 70 students who signed up last year.
It meets in two classes during first and second period, allowing them enough time to complete projects.
There are prerequisites to the class, Lewellen said, with students needing to maintain a certain grade and complete necessary coursework in seventh grade, like learning model software.
Seventh graders are working with 3D modeling software that is $3,500 a seat, Lewellen added, but being education, they get it for free.
“It’s industry software, it’s not watered down for education. It’s exactly what you’d see on the floor of Faurecia. They’d be able to walk up to a station and work on it there,” he said.
Lewellen said that the program is still growing and finding its direction, but the process has been fun.
Lewellen said that programs like this are not always available at other schools, especially in middle schools.
“People would be stunned about the work we have seventh and eighth graders doing,” Lewellen said.
Even though Lewellen consults with Chris Townsend, who advises Eagle Manufacturing at the high school, he said he knew the programs would be different.
Eagle Manufacturing was first open to juniors and seniors. Sophomores are also now able to participate.
Lewellen said they are working to bridge the gap between the two programs and from eighth grade to sophomore year.
While some of the technology is the same between Eagle and Eaglet Manufacturing, Townsend and Lewellen both said the capacity of work varies between programs.
With shorter class periods, their turnaround time on a project takes a bit longer than Eagle Manufacturing.
Eagle Manufacturing is able to produce at higher production levels and volume for clients in and around the county, like local businesses and organizations. Eaglet Manufacturing will work on signage, merchandise, plaques and more for school corporation specifically.
One project Eaglet Manufacturing recently completed was a banner for Van Buren Elementary School’s fall festival. They’ve also done sports awards, shirts for tennis teams and locker stickers for the football team.
It was the first banner completed on the large format printer, Lewellen said, and that they worked through problem solving when designing it.
With Fall Festival being an event VBES will do every year, they designed a removable sticker for the banner that can have the new date each year, but on the same banner.
”That’s what we’ll slowly start to do, taking over spirit wear, banners, middle school awards for the schools,” Lewellen said.
Smaller jobs along those lines are right up the alley of Eaglet Manufacturing, Lewellen said.
‘Good for the future’
Aside from experience on professional equipment, students are also learning are employability and communication skills.
“(The program) helps them with designing and being able to see and do some things in engineering or graphic design. I think the biggest part of it is communication skills,” Lewellen said.
There are corporate problems that the middle school works on with companies like Cummins and Faurecia. The employability skill they emphasize the most is communication.
“It’s not about when you go to college and learn all this stuff, it’s not always about that, you’ve got to learn the communication skills to go into a workplace,” Lewellen said.
“I think that’s a great thing that Eagle and Eaglet do, is those employability skills.”
Eighth grader Chloe Sawyer said she enjoyed taking an engineering class last year and thought that Eaglet Manufacturing would be a good fit.
She’s now the graphics manager at Eaglet Manufacturing, and has learned communication skills and how to design things on programs like Adobe and Illustrator.
She’ll work on actual design from its inception to production.
Someday she hopes to be a civil engineer.
Charly Eddins has always wanted to be an architectural engineer and felt like taking an engineering class in the seventh grade would be a good step in that direction. Now she’s in eighth grade, and spends second period in the Eaglet Manufacturing lab.
Her experience in the room has not been limited to learning how to use different types of tools, machines and equipment, she’s also learned teamwork, something she said she’ll take with her beyond middle school and high school.
“If you fill out a job application, people will want to be able to have teamwork on their side. I feel like that will be good for the future,” she said.
In Eaglet Manufacturing, she likes receiving and making new orders.
“It’s really fun and something new you’ve never gotten to do in any class,” she said.
Eagle Manufacturing is currently located in the high school, but will soon move to its new location in the space between the current Career Resource Center in the Educational Service Center and the former Brown County Intermediate School gymnasium.
The move will happen sometime in late January or early February, and Eagle Manufacturing adviser Chris Townsend said the move will allow them to make a sizeable jump in numbers.
Right now there are just above 20 students at the high school, down about ten students from last year.
The new location will also allow for equipment to be in the same area together.
The current Eagle Manufacturing space in the high school will be used for the engineering and new construction programs. Hiring engineer and construction teacher Cody McGill was also approved by the school board at the May 19 meeting. A building trades program had not been available since former teacher Chris Todd left the school district in 2016.
An expansion proposal was presented to a community member who agreed to fund the construction in the new space and getting it up to standards. The new space will feature manufacturing lab, administration lab and graphics lab along with a shipping and receiving inventory area.
Townsend, an engineering and technology teacher, and industrial technology teacher Dean Keefauver both serve as advisers for Eagle Manufacturing at Brown County High School.
“For all students, exposure is key to give opportunities to explore things they enjoy,” Townsend said last week.
Programs like Eagle and Eaglet Manufacturing provide an environment for students to develop employability skills.
“That’s the great thing about both of (the programs),” Townsend said.
Even if a student changes their mind on what career path they may take after graduating, they’re still gaining skill sets that will transfer to whatever they do.
“That’s the beauty of both of these programs, the employability skills are transferring to everyday life and high schools,” Townsend said.