WILLIAMSBURG — Every high school student has asked the question "When I am ever going to need this?" And teachers are quick to explain how whatever lesson it is students are questioning somehow connects to real life.
On Friday, students from all three Williamsburg-James City County high schools got a better answer to that oft-pondered question than vague assurances that yes, adults use Y = MX + B on a daily basis and everyone needs to know who killed Caesar.
The district's fourth annual Manufacturing Day brought 120 students into local manufacturing businesses to give them a glimpse of potential future careers and show them how the fundamentals they learn in high school can be applied in a profession.
"If you are doing all this math but not seeing practical application, you can start to be not as interested," said Jamestown student Eli Pritchard, 15. "Both companies (we toured) said they use calculus."
Seven local manufacturing businesses opened their doors, provided tours, and taught students about a range of careers. Owens-Illinois, Coresix Precision Glass, Ball Corporation, Nicewood Enterprises, Printpack and H&H Medical Corporation all participated. Groups of students from each high school toured two companies before all the participants convened at Legacy Hall in New Town for lunch.
Kyle Johnson, a senior at Lafayette, said he was hoping to get a scholarship to play football in college, but the job opportunities he learned about at Anheuser-Busch and Ball Corporation looked like good options as well.
He said he hadn't ever thought about a career in manufacturing, but "I'm going to think about it now with the way they pay."
A group of students from Jamestown said the greatest benefit of the day was getting out of the classroom and thinking about their future.
"You get to see what people are doing rather than just reading a textbook," said Nicholas Miller, 16.
School board member Mary Minor said the day was a good example of what administrators are talking about when they mention "21st-century learning."
"The technology is going to be different, the experience is going to be different, they will collaborate in teamwork," Minor said. "And there are industries that people don't know about that are here that are letting our students see there are opportunities."
James City Supervisor Ruth Larson accompanied Lafayette students on a tour of the Anheuser-Busch facility. She said the plant manager talked to students about how to prepare for job interviews.
"I think it is just incredibly beneficial for all these kids to get out of the classroom and to hear this real-life experience and hear from people that are living it every day," Larson said.
At Legacy Hall, students from Warhill's Project Lead the Way demonstrated to their peers the power of manufacturing.
Walker Whitehurst, a 15-year old Warhill sophomore, demonstrated a robot he designed, partially using components he and his classmates manufactured with a 3D printer. Using infrared sensors, Whitehurst's robot could follow a track of electric tape on the floor.
Glenn Marshall, a representative from the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, said W-JCC's manufacturing day program was one of the most impressive he had ever seen.
"I travel the country and I must say, looking at what is going on in the community here, this should be a benchmark for other communities that want to make 'Made in America' a reality again," said Marshall. "We are looking at the next generation of makers."
McKinnon can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.