The past, present and future were all intertwined at a recent meeting of the Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES Board of Education.
Dr. Robert Olczak presided over his final meeting as BOCES district superintendent. He is retiring at the end of the month after 12 years.
The meeting was held at Elm Street Academy in Cuba, BOCES' Big Picture alternative high school. Principal Christopher McNell presented Dr. Olczak with a plaque from Big Picture founders Elliot Washor and Dennis Littky in appreciation of the superintendent's role in bringing Big Picture to the Southern Tier five years ago.
Dr. Robert Olczak receives an honor from Elm Street Academy principal Chris McNell.
The Innovative Schools award from Big Picture was just one of several kudos for Dr. Olczak's at his meeting. He was also honored by Elm Street teacher Leonora Tolsma, who presented Dr. Olczak with a gift made by her students and thanked him for attending her 12:1:3 classroom's annual graduation on multiple occasions. The class also made gifts for each one of the board members.
Project Lead the Way teachers James Schifley (Ellicottville CTE) and Alan Barber (Belmont CTE) gave a presentation about their program, which lays the foundation for high school students to pursue in-demand careers in engineering. The program has been offered by BOCES nearly five years.
Barber thanked the board for its decision to start offering the program.
"At the time, I had been teaching Computer-Aided Design/Drafting, and our student enrollment was down. From there I taught Career Foundations for a year, and after that experience I was ready to accept a job in New Jersey. That's when you [the board] stepped in and started talking about Project Lead the Way. So I stayed. Thank you for saving my career in education," he said.
Schifley said Project Lead the Way has been a big boost for both local students and for area manufacturers.
"We encourage problem-solving and listening to others. Asking questions. Working in teams and with other classes. How to conduct research. To analyze the plethora of information out there, especially the Internet. And the biggest is to cope with failures and try again," Schifley said.
Among the four courses are Introduction to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, Digital Electronics, and CIM (computer-integrated manufacturing).
"We do a lot of design/build-type projects," Barber said. "When a student is learning math as a youngster, they ask 'When will I ever use this?' This is the class where you will use those principles of math."
"What's nice about the BOCES Project Lead the Way program is that we get two hours a day with students to work on projects and troubleshoot. That's an advantage that we have over the home schools offering the program," Schifley said.
Schifley said 20 of 34 Ellicottville Project Lead the Way graduates have gone on to college. Five joined the military. The rest are either working or their status is unknown.
Helping to get students ages 9 through 14 interested in designing, building, problem-solving and teamwork is the goal behind Instructional Support Services' Lego League program. Cindy Crandall, ISS program manager for student programs, said the Southern Tier Lego League competition on Nov. 17 at Houghton College was a success.
Eleven teams, including nine from BOCES component schools, attended the competition. Some 130 students in all were there. The program started with four teams when it was first held seven years ago.
This year's theme was Senior Solutions, and was geared toward projects that solve real-world problems for elderly folks. Teams from Fillmore and Ellicottville advanced to the next level of competition.
In Lego League, students start with a "brick" or programmable computer to which they attach Legos. The teams are given a challenge and must assemble the parts of their robot. Then it must perform a series of tasks or survive an obstacle course to be judged successful, Ms. Crandall said.
The Southern Tier Cup-a trophy made of Legos-is given each year to the top team. They retain it for a year and can change it if they like, but they must return it.
Ms. Crandall added that a Lego League coach, Bernice Pierson of Portville, died in a car accident at the start of the school year. She advised three teams. A spirit award in her honor was established and given for the first time this year, to the team from Portville.