New equipment that will allow the Pickerington Local School District to provide manufacturing and robotics curriculum was on display earlier this month as a collaboration of districts showcased the next phase in preparing students for careers and college.

New equipment that will allow the Pickerington Local School District to provide manufacturing and robotics curriculum was on display earlier this month as a collaboration of districts showcased the next phase in preparing students for careers and college.

Sept. 9, representatives of a coalition of 15 central Ohio high schools and the Eastland-Fairfield, Tolles and Ohio Hi-Point career centers gathered at Pickerington High School North to discuss new steps in hands-on student learning and readying students for life after high school.

The districts, which also included Canal Winchester, Columbus, Gahanna-Jefferson, Hilliard, Reynoldsburg, Upper Arlington and others, are part of a 15-district collaboration that last year began receiving Ohio Straight A Funds from the Ohio General Assembly.

In all, the 15 districts are sharing $14.4 million for Innovation Generation, a state program to focus on long-term pathways between schools and careers in advanced manufacturing and robotics, business logistics, health care and information technology.

A corner stone for that effort are the "Fab Labs," mobile laboratories that feature laser cutters, 3-D printers and other new technologies that will help students prepare for technical careers, as well as college degrees in science and engineering.

"I am very excited to be a part of this great opportunity of our students and all of the students involved in the Innovation Generation," said Valerie Browning-Thompson, Pickerington's superintendent.

"This grant has allowed the consortium to create four major pathways in strongly growing fields of health care, advanced manufacturing, IT and logistics."

Pickerington's Fab Lab is a $600,000, 32-foot fabrication laboratory that provides hands-on learning opportunities for everything from milling and lathing, to computer-aided design and robot building.

"These hands-on labs show the kind of ambitious innovation we are seeing in Ohio schools because of the Straight A Fund, Gov. (John) Kasich's $250 million investment in education," said Richard A. Ross, Ohio superintendent of public instruction.

"This project proves how creative our districts can be in transforming teaching and connecting our students to the workforce, so they are truly prepared for success after high school."

Although other districts in the consortium will share the labs, Pickerington's will stay within the district.

It will, however, move between Lakeview and Ridgeview junior high schools and PHS North and Pickerington High School Central, so students at each of those schools can take advantage of its equipment and learning opportunities.

"Programs like these give our students the opportunities to be more prepared for what comes after graduation, be it a two-year or four-year college degree or directly entering the workforce," Browning-Thompson said.

While the Fab Lab will diversify and improve student learning immensely, Browning-Thompson said, it's not the only benefit the district is receiving through its involvement in the consortium.

Last spring, the district received roughly $600,000 in additional Straight A grants to offer courses to qualify students to become pharmacy technicians.

That job that includes the ability to write medication prescriptions, and pays $30,000 to $35,000 right out of high school, according to district officials.

District officials also hope to receive another $5 million in grants to develop new math curriculum and a program that links students to organizations, employers, schools and other students to increase the number of adults who have post-secondary degrees or certificates in specified industry sectors.

"Members of our community are extremely excited to see PLSD investing in real-world classes and programs," Browning-Thompson said.

"The interest was seen this past weekend at the Labor Day parade when community members got the first sight of the Fab Lab.

"How could you not be excited about a giant Mobile Fab Lab with high-end engineering equipment?"