With the smell of ionized air filling their nostrils and the hum of a digital press in the background, a group of educators from Carver Vocational-Technical High School took a field trip last week to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. - without students in tow.
About 100 teachers and administrators visited various BGE facilities and 10 received an up-close look at the utility company's print shop printers, computer software and drafting rooms. They also got updates on evolving industrial technology from employees.
The tour of the BGE print facility Wednesday - designed to keep Carver's faculty current with trends in the 21st-century workplace - was part of a systemwide professional development effort by Baltimore schools.
"We need to step up on some things, but overall this helped make sure our teaching staff at Carver stays up to date," said Sidney Twiggs, the school's assistant principal.
Other Carver staff members examined different facets of the utility company such as gas operations, maps and drafting, human relations and accounting during the three-day program. Among the facilities visited were BGE's print and media services building located near downtown, where the printing operations are housed, the electric operations building in Woodlawn and the Pumphrey Training Center just beyond the city's southern reaches.
"We are trying to enhance this partnership with BGE to help get our youngsters acclimated to the work force," said Carver Principal Michael Plitt.
In part, the Carver staff's trip to BGE helped show what new equipment the school might need to make classroom instruction more relevant - although some teachers and an alumnus who now works for the utility conceded the school doesn't have the money for pricey items such as modern printers.
"I went back to the school, and they still have the same stuff I did when I went to school there," said Melvin Heckstall, who graduated from Carver in 1988 and has worked for BGE since then.
BGE officials emphasized that students need to learn the academic basics such as geometry, physics and English, but also need to be computer-literate in an industry that has a "computer connected to almost every operation."
During the tour, Carver teacher Khalil Adolemaiu-Bey and Heckstall, his former student, discussed how much the printing industry has changed, and the challenge that presented for vo-tech educators.
"It used to be that all you had to know was that you shouldn't mix ink and water," Heckstall said.
And that's why it's important, Adolemaiu-Bey said, to close the schools for three days for professional development - so teachers and especially administrators can re-examine how the material taught in the classrooms is helping prepare students for the workplace.
"It's important we raise the bar instead of keeping level," Adolemaiu-Bey said. "So it's important for the administrators even more than the teachers to know what the schools need."
One needed change that was apparent to Twiggs is a conversion from an older layout software being used at Carver to QuarkXpress, which he called the industry standard. But software like that, Twiggs said, can cost thousands of dollars.
While such improvements might be expensive for schools, industry officials say it's more necessity than luxury.
"If the students don't know where the industry is going," said Ken Bowers, print supervisor for Constellation Energy Group, BGE's parent company, " ... they don't know what to do when they try to get a job."