Pleasant Grove’s IDEA engineering program hampered by teacher shortage



Lilah Gonsalves, Pleasant Grove High School

Schools nationwide have been scrambling to find enough qualified teachers for their classes, and Pleasant Grove High School is no exception. 

According to EdSource, “nearly one out of five classes in California (are) taught by underprepared teachers.” This has caused many students across the state to be taught by teachers who are either instructing outside of their credentialing or simply unqualified. 

This issue of qualifications has become especially prevalent at Pleasant Grove, as one of their more prominent programs, the IDEA curriculum, has been short-staffed since December 2021. 

Rebecca Hunter, the Innovative Design and Engineering Academy coordinator, describes the program as a “school within a school.” Over their four years of high school, IDEA students have the option to take specially designed classes centered around engineering and preparation for related career paths. It’s quite popular, with about 370 students participating; however this school year, because of the qualifications necessary to teach such a specialized course, PGHS has had difficulty finding enough teachers to maintain the reach of the program. 

“Having a credential to teach engineering is very specific,” Hunter said about the school’s struggle to find a teacher. Especially with the technology involved, the issue hasn’t just been finding a teacher, but also finding someone who’s experienced. 

To adapt, IDEA has had to rearrange some of its classes, making it so more than 60 freshmen won’t have the traditional introductory course, Computer Aided Drafting/Design (CADD). Instead, they’ll start the academy during their sophomore year. 

In the class, students would be learning how to use two primary computer programs: AutoCADD, for “two-dimensional drafting software,” and Inventor, for “3-D drafting,” said William Walker, a CADD teacher and the engineering department chair. The course essentially teaches students the skills they’ll need to progress through the academy and, as Walker said, “it all starts with CADD.”

Because of the program’s structure, students only need three years worth of classes to be considered “pathway completers,” where they have the opportunity to choose between either Principles of Engineering or Mechatronics. However, instead of being able to take two “concentrative courses” in the subject, students will have to pick one before completing the “capstone” class during their senior year. 

“We’re trying to make it work out. We’re considering different things,” Walker said about the new course situation. While less than ideal, the academy is still considering its options to most benefit students, with the possibility of summer school one idea currently being floated.

Reflecting back on her time in the academy, senior Abigail Woodfill shared a similar sentiment for the need for additional staff, stating the current freshmen are at a “disadvantage.” But, she still believes the students will recover from the setback. 

“After freshman year, the route that I went with, Principles of Engineering, I don’t really use AutoCADD anymore. Mechatronics uses it, but for me personally, the point was kind of moot. I think kids will be just fine without the class,” Woodfill said. 

Field trips for the academy have also experienced a decline, with many of them currently on hold because of a lack of available substitute teachers. The academy usually has multiple field trips designed for each grade level, including visits to light rail construction at Siemens, local custom guitar business Kauer Guitar, Sac State and Folsom Lake College, but none have been confirmed for this school year. 

“After October, we’re hoping to have a better idea of whether the sub shortage is still a problem,” Walker said, “but right now we can’t do field trips until after we see if that improves.”

The shortage hasn’t only impacted students, but also the academy teachers. To minimize the number of students denied academy classes, many teachers and members of the academy administration have taken on additional roles. 

Walker, for instance, has given up his prep period, resulting in him teaching six classes a day instead of the usual five. 

“I’m working full-time overload,” Walker said. “The only break I currently get during the day is my lunch. So, it makes it to where I have to spend a lot more time after school planning, grading and all of those things.” 

As for next year, both teachers and students in the academy remain hopeful the gaps in staffing will be filled and the teacher shortage as a whole will be solved.

“It’s kind of a domino effect,” said Hunter, the IDEA coordinator. “It’s not like there are teacher shortages in just one area, it’s nationwide, and so it has had an impact. We’re trying our best to make the best out of the situation and hope we can find solutions.”