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Fiber-Optic Lab Shows a Class Pathway to the Future : Newbury Park: The students also study such technical fields as computer animation, robotics and graphic design.


Seventeen-year-old Anthony Gelatt planned to graduate from Newbury Park High School next spring and enter the working world without a college diploma.


But now, a month into a new high-tech class, Anthony is considering going to college and dreaming of a future in telecommunications.

The senior's interest in one of the world's fastest-growing industries was sparked by an $80,000 donation of high-tech fiber-optic equipment by GTE California to Newbury Park High School's new Technology Lab.

"We are trying to give kids learning opportunities, paths into the future," said Frederick Fleming, a senior analyst with GTE who helped develop a manual for the class. "This is the growth industry."

In addition to GTE's fiber-optic instruments, the 24 students enrolled in the class--called Applied Technology--study technical fields such as computer animation, robotics and graphic design.

While other schools in Ventura County offer similar courses that teach students how to use high-tech computer systems, Newbury Park High is probably the only school in the country teaching telecommunications by using advanced fiber-optic equipment, GTE and school officials said.

"This is pretty unique," Fleming said. "I've been out at college classes and never seen anything like this."

Companies such as Thousand Oaks-based GTE California are now using fiber-optic phone lines instead of old copper wires to carry information.

Fiber-optic lines are cheaper to maintain and transmit information faster, Fleming said. Each fiber strand, as thin a human hair, can carry about 27,000 voices simultaneously.

In class, students learn how to splice fiber-optic cable to link a four-mile phone line. Once it's completed, the youngsters can communicate using headsets.

"This is exactly what is being done at a phone company," said teacher Bob Hendricks, gesturing toward four identical spools of thin cable attached to two large wooden telephone work stations.

"If we went through four years of this program," he said, "in the end, they would be able to walk out of this and get any job with a phone company laying fiber-optic cable."


The expensive lab is one example of how schools and businesses are trying to upgrade vocational education.

"What we are trying to do," Hendricks said, "is get kids excited about the technology, see if it sparks an interest somewhere."

For the students in Applied Technology, Hendricks' plan seems to be working.

"Unlike other classes, it's hands-on experience," said Joe Caldevaro, 16, who took the elective course last spring when it was first offered. "It's a great opportunity."

Sixteen-year-old junior Randy Miller said the class teaches students about the latest advances and prepares them for the job world. "You aren't working with Commodores or Ataris any more," he said.

Joe said his favorite part of the class is the new fiber-optic system, carefully tucked away in a corner of the lab, once the school's crafts room.

"It's really simple," he said. "It seems like Latin at first, but after a while it's like tying your shoes."

The class is organized so that each week students rotate to different modules, where they work in pairs on various projects. The class lasts for an hour and a half, allowing ample time for lab work. During the first month of class, students have worked with several business leaders, mostly from GTE.

Educators see this interaction as a key to job opportunities.

"The expertise is critical, this is directly applicable to a career," said Fred Van Leuven, director of secondary education for the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

Business leaders see schools as an investment in the future.

"The reason we get involved is because we are recipients of what comes out of both private and public education," said Mike Crawford, president of GTE California. "A lot of us have true interest in education. . . . We want to lend a helping hand when we can."

Anthony Gelatt sees the GTE equipment as a tremendous gift.

"I don't know how to put a price tag on this," he said, eyeing the expensive instruments. "It's like a Christmas present."

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