Petaluma high schoolers will soon have the chance to step into an engineer's shoes though a county-sponsored program that brings real life experience into the classroom.

The grant that makes the program possible comes as Sonoma County looks for ways to encourage growth in the fields of engineering and technology. Offered through Sonoma County's Career Technology Education (CTE) Fund, it provides the financial resources needed to incorporate a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) course in each school district, including Healdsburg, Petaluma, and Santa Rosa.

The Petaluma program will allow students to investigate their engineering interests through a series of projects and proposals, and narrow down what field they wish to study in.

Although the money was awarded to the Petaluma City Schools District, the course will only be offered at Petaluma High, because of its history of excellent engineering and science options, such as its manufacturing course. However, students from other schools will have the opportunity to participate.

"Petaluma High already has a major program with a focus in manufacturing, so the engineering technology course would help lead into that. Each district had to apply to receive the money for the course, and this one seemed fitting considering Petaluma's experience with engineering," said Stephen Jackson, director of career development for the county. He added that the class will probably be offered to 9th or 10th graders who could move on to take a class in manufacturing.

Petaluma High School Principal David Stirrat said the class will introduce students to the basic principals of engineering.

"When someone says they want to be an engineer, there's so many things that could mean," he said. "There are so many areas of study in engineering, including mechanical, electrical, structural, and design; basically anything that is built involves engineering."

He added, "This class takes the student through what it means to be an engineer, and it will help them realize what each area entails. The curriculum will consist of both theoretical and hands-on work."

Stirrat said the first class, to be offered this fall, will be a small, trial class with about 15 students, but that it will hopefully grow in future years.

Jennifer Beton, who has been teaching at Petaluma High School for the last year and has a degree in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt University, will be the teacher of the new course.

The class is meant to not only expand Petaluma High School's pre-existing engineering program offerings, but also to help students understand more about the field before they delve into college.

"We think it's a great addition to what we already offer here; it will help build upon our green technology construction program," said Stirrat.

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