Along with drones and 360-degree cameras, a $20,000 laser cutter and a $25,000 3-D printer are part of a cache of innovative equipment new this fall to Ballard's classroom, where six Career and Technical Education courses are taught at the Oakland County school.
With all six classes full, Ballard hopes to double the number of CTE courses offered next school year and plans to add a class called "Certified Ethical Hacker certification" once the district can find another CTE-certified teacher.
"The kids love it. We are doing some fun things. It's all hands-on. Do you want to play or listen to someone talk all day?" said Ballard, a certified CTE teacher.
At the moment, Michigan is enjoying a rise in the number of students enrolled in CTE — or skilled trades — programs.
CTE programs in Michigan added nearly 5,000 students since 2015, with the largest increase in enrollment among 11th- and 12th-grade students, state officials told The Detroit News .
The total number of students in CTE courses was at 109,005 for the 2016-17 school year. Numbers for the two prior school years were 107,930 students in 2015-16 and 104,038 in 2014-15.
CTE high school instructional programs teach students skills in a specific career cluster, state officials said. Most programs offer early college credit opportunities to provide a seamless transition to post-secondary education.
In fields such as health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing, construction and automotive technology, there is a high demand for jobs in Michigan, according to educators and business leaders.
State education officials attribute the enrollment increase to more state funding in CTE education and the state's "Going PRO" campaign, which emphasizes to students that skilled trades are careers that often require less schooling and debt than a four-year degree.
State funding for CTE programs increased in Michigan by $10 million in 2015-16 to $35.8 million and will remain at that level for 2016-17 and 2017-18.
"Our young people benefit by knowing about the rewarding careers in the professional trades — and all career pathways — and we have a responsibility to make sure they get the skills and experience needed to attain them," state Superintendent Brian Whiston said.
Ballard, who worked in the private business sector before becoming a CTE instructor, teaches computer programming 1 and 2, computer science principles, computer science applications, web design and digital multimedia, networking and computer security.
In 2018, the school district plans to add a course in cybersecurity that will prepare students for the "Certified Ethical Hacking" exam and in 2019 a cyber-forensics course. Ballard, who has been integral in developing the new courses for the school, is excited about the possibilities for the students.
With the certifications, students can enter the workforce upon graduation or continue building their educational portfolio with several credentials already under their belt, he said.
"This is a great opportunity that students should take advantage of. If a student takes all of the courses in the IT program at Avondale High School during their school career, they will graduate with several marketable certifications, valuable to employers in most every industry," Ballard said.
Avondale student Brett Wright is in Ballard's class, developing a storytelling game app for his grandfather, Jerry, who is his client for this school project. Wright, 17, uses dual computer screens to research how to build the Android app using software Ballard provided.
Wright's idea is to create an app that allows the user to select options for how a story will move forward and play out, from the beginning until the end.
"There is different branching stories from the very beginning. You can accept the request or leave and go off on your own. You can get completely different outcomes just from one choice. That's my plan," said Wright, 17.
Avondale student Rachel Pastori is one of the few female students in the CTE course. The 16-year-old is also part of the Girls Who Code club at the school.
"I really like programming and technology and I really wanted to learn more about it," she said. Compared with the coding class, where she uses code languages for web design, the CTE class "has been kind of difficult. ... It's nice to be exposed to something different."
In Dearborn Public Schools, students have CTE courses in health sciences, culinary arts, design and information technology, and a new program called the Dearborn Business Academy, which allows students to complete the accounting, marketing and business management curriculum in one comprehensive program.
The programs offer in-depth and hands-on training designed to prepare students for success in college and their chosen career, school officials said. In addition to academic training, students can participate in workplace-based training through field trips, job shadows and other "on-site" opportunities.
Area educators are working with students to get them to stick with CTE courses until they complete a certificate.
According to data from the Michigan Department of Education, completion rates for CTE programs were less than 30 percent for students in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent data available.
"Because of their academic and technical rigor, CTE programs take one or two years to complete and students may not be able to fit all of the required CTE courses into their schedules," said Jill Kroll, supervisor in the state's CTE office.
The state has provided funding for districts to hire more career counselors to advise students starting as early as middle school on how to fit in CTE classes if that's what a student wants, Kroll said.
"I think they do run out of space in their schedules. ... So it's really important for students interested in this area to start planning in middle school about what they want to do," she said.
In 2017-18, the state allocated more than $1 million for competitive grants for career and technical education counselors.
State education officials said more than 96 percent of CTE graduates were successfully placed in colleges and universities, advanced training programs, military services or jobs within a year of leaving high school, according to students surveyed in 2016.
Education officials said students wanting good jobs in Michigan are realizing that CTE programs in high school build a pathway to those careers.
"The increase in CTE enrollment is an encouraging sign as we look to eliminate stereotypes surrounding these programs and build a more robust and diverse talent pipeline in Michigan," said Roger Curtis, director of the state's Department of Talent and Economic Development.
Curtis said he hopes more students become aware of the courses.
"We want all students to know about these great pathways into the bountiful job opportunities that exist here in Michigan, be it an apprenticeship, specialized training program, associate or bachelor's degree," Curtis said. "We cannot accomplish that goal unless we solve our career awareness gap. CTE programs can help do that."