A visit to vocational learning classes at Rancho Alamitos High School doesn't turn up a room cluttered with vises, power tools and grease. The days of metal shop are over.
These days, students tackle hands-on experiments in a high-technology lab crammed with lasers, wind tunnels, satellite navigation equipment and other advanced computers and electronics.
Since September, about 120 students have been taking a new course called "Introduction to Technology." The class offers students a chance to work on state-of-the-art equipment such as computer-assisted drafting hardware, plastic molding machines and structural stress monitors, said Alan Trudell, spokesman for the Garden Grove Unified School District.
The district spent $80,000 of federal vocational funds to outfit the lab, and spent an equal amount to equip a second lab at La Quinta High School, which offers a similar program, he said.
Under the program, students spend 10 days with each of 16 kinds of advanced technological equipment. Students must read manuals to learn how to operate the equipment and perform experiments, said Robert Smith, who teaches the class.
"The whole idea is to get them to teach themselves," he said.
Taking a break from studying aerodynamic principles with the help of a wind tunnel, Kevin Lea, 16, said the class was exciting, impressive and unlike any that he has taken before.
"It's really interesting to come in here and work with all this stuff. It's awesome. I feel kind of lucky to be in here," he said.
Rancho Alamitos previously offered metal shop, but replaced it because it was outdated and offered students less variety than the new laboratory. Vocational education now requires more familiarity with computerized hardware, Smith said.
"The whole new era is moving into technology and we feel that's where the jobs are," he said.