William Chrisman High School seniors Daniel Dockins and Storm Sinclair were unsure of what they wanted to do for a living when they graduated.

Both thought of maybe getting into the automotive field. But then they found what they're currently studying, and their path to their future is now very clear.

Both applied to be part of the new Career and Technical Education (CTE) Academy class in the new Van Horn High School machine technology classroom for the 2019-20 school year, and they were accepted. They have no regrets.

"I don't know what I'd be doing without this program. ... This is exactly where I want to be," Dockins said.

"Fortunate can't even begin to describe how we feel about this," Sinclair said. "This program has really pointed me in the direction to where I want to go in the future career-wise."

The pair are two of eight students in the new program, which has coincided with the installation of a state-of-the-art machine shop at Van Horn. The new classroom, under the guidance of longtime industrial arts teacher Billy Diman, features 16 manual metal-working machines – eight lathes and eight mills – and now the four brand new CNC (computer numeric control) machines.

Van Horn is the only high school in the metro area with this array of machines to teach metal working.

Students learn to draw up computer programs, set those programs up on the CNC machines and then operate them. The machines are for shaping metal and engraving.

"This is basically our future. If we want to stick with this industry, this is our future right here," Sinclair said. "We learn how to literally operate them, we learn how to program for them, we learn the whole spectrum of how this process works."

They are also learning how to manually mold metal on the lathes and mills.

The students recently carved out molds on the CNC machines for the culinary arts program to use to make candy, which will be sold at the student-run All Things Independence store. They made molds with logos for the Independence School District and all three high schools, Chrisman, Truman and Van Horn.

"I don't even count this as school work," Dockins said. "I go to school in the morning (core classes at Chrisman) and then I get to do this the rest of the day. It's more like fun to us."

Diman said learning on the machines will prepare the students to find work straight out of high school if they wish.

"The CNC machines are giving my students the skills to find employment," said Diman, who has taught in the Independence School District for 26 years. "The majority of the machine shops in this area run CNC machines. Very few have actual manual machines, but all of the skills that my students learn on the manual machines are the ones they need to know to run the CNC machines. They're getting real world experience."

Diman, who works in metal shops along with his teaching, said that it is a burgeoning field of expertise, and that much of the current older workforce will retire in the next five years.

"It's literally the perfect time for us," Sinclair said.

Diman said there is room for 15 students in the academy and there were 15 applicants for this school year. But because of other circumstances, only eight were able to participate. He expects that number to grow once word gets out about the program – and it already has, he said.

"The students love the facility," Diman said. "In January I had the sophomores and juniors out of the advanced metal classes from all three high schools come to the CTE class so that they could see the facility here. The teacher at Truman has been telling them how small their shop is, and they didn't realize how small it was until they came over here and saw how many more machines we have than they do, and the size of the shop, so it's generated interest."

Sinclair and Dockins are happy they made the choice to apply.

"I originally wanted to go for diesel technology but in my sophomore year in advanced metals I kind of found out my love for this. It's just so – I don't know the word for it – intriguing," Sinclair said.

"I knew I had to do something hands on," Dockins said. "When I was a freshman originally, I signed up for general metals thinking I was going to go into the industry as a mechanic, because automotive is also in this pathway, but I'm here now. I ended up liking it more.

"It readies us for our future. We're way ahead of anybody our age at this point."