Judging from a packed parking lot and the number of families and children participating in a wide variety of Christmas-themed crafts and activities, the TPS Natural Science Technology Center, 5561 Elmer Dr., is not such a secret anymore. Until what was dubbed its Holiday Spectacular, the tech center was tucked quietly beside the Toledo Botanical Gardens—but the first-ever open house served a publicity purpose.
“It’s a very good turnout—almost better than expected,” said Dan Weiss, landscape and turf management instructor. “I think we were ready for the majority of it, but it’s hard to know being the first time—but I think we did pretty well. We’re very happy with the turnout.”
“It’s tons of fun, but we’ve been working on it for months,” said Jessica Hammer, floral design instructor. “Our students have been working the past two weeks decorating the school, preparing everything to get ready.”
The TPS Natural Science Technology Center has a lot of partnerships, including with the Toledo Botanical Gardens and the Toledo Zoo, allowing students to take field trips or obtain an internship. Many are hired right out of high school based on that experience.
“We’re a hidden gem, right here in the middle of a suburb. This is just about a lot of public awareness. There are a lot of people, even here on Elmer Drive, who have no idea what we do here or what the kids do here,” said Ms. Hammer. “So it’s a lot of awareness of what we offer throughout the entire year that our students get to participate in.”
Students gained a lot of customer service experience during the event, from leading craft activities to selling poinsettias, decorated holiday wreaths, and Christmas trees.
“I’ve had a lot of compliments on the students—working well, speaking well, being polite,” said Ms. Hammer. “This is the perfect opportunity for them to learn customer service.”
Outside the tech center, children were jumping inside a bounce house, shooting basketballs at inflatable hoops, or taking a pony ride. Indoors, other children were making holiday ornaments, pine cone bird feeders, and decorating pine wreaths, while some petted small animals or had their picture taken with Santa Claus. As part of their food drive, the Center also collected can goods.
According to instructors, the center currently has 65 TPS students enrolled in its Small Animal Science, Floriculture/Greenhouse, and Landscape/Turfgrass programs, but has a total capacity of 150 or more high school juniors and seniors. Instructors believe declining student enrollment across the district eventually trickled down to the programs.
“Obviously, we’re hoping to grow that enrollment,” said Weiss. “If we could grow by 10 or 15 students every year and get our numbers back up (to capacity), that’s where we would want to be.”
“We needed to do something new and different for recruitment purposes,” added Ms. Hammer. “So we decided to do this. It was at the holiday time and it related to a lot of programs that we could do stuff with. We came up with the idea and went from there.”
Many of the program’s former students actively are working in the field. Weiss explained that two of his former students are on the field maintenance crew at Fifth Third Field. Some own their own landscape or lawn maintenance businesses. Still others are working at nurseries and greenhouses or golf courses in the area.
“All of our programs have some sort of certification they leave us with,” said Weiss. “We have some agreements with colleges (to earn college credit). After they leave our program, they can go to some colleges and test out of some classes. By being in our programs, that’s another added advantage. They also leave us with a portfolio that shows employers what they’ve accomplished and what they’re capable of doing.”
“Everybody is so worried about college prep classes and making sure those classes fit in a regular high school,” said Ms. Hammer. “Everybody goes right to them, but not everybody is geared toward that or wants to do that. This gives them an opportunity to do something different, do something hands-on, and learn a skill. They can go right to the workforce and use that skill.”
The Small Animal Science program teaches everything from biology to dog grooming to animal nutrition. The Floriculture/Greenhouse program teaches plant science, floral design, and marketing, among other courses. Students in Landscape/Turfgrass learn landscape design, turf science, and nursery management.
“Not everybody is going to be a florist, but at least they’ll be able to decorate their own wreath instead of purchasing one,” said Ms. Hammer.
Students attend classes at the TPS Natural Science Technology Center Monday through Friday from 7:30 to 11:40 a.m., but remain affiliated with their home high schools. The programs offer an open enrollment policy which allows home-schooled and out-of-district students to attend.
High school students can get more information by calling 419.537.1198, emailing [email protected] or visiting www.toledonaturalsciencetechnologycenter.com.