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Cable company bridges gap between high school, industry

A novel program gives high school students the same entry level training Time Warner gives its employees.

By CHRISTINE GRAEF

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- The diagram at the front of the classroom at Dixie Hollins High School looked like a map of streets stretching in every direction. Each stop along the way had a 12-digit address.

"It's the easiest way to think of the Internet," said Bob Marotta, sales engineer for Time Warner Inc. "There has to be a valid address to operate. When PCs communicate, they need to know the MAC address and IP address from the source and the destination."

Marotta is one of the Time Warner Tampa Bay employees who is teaching a cooperative course in Dan Petrino's classroom this semester. Two days a week, students receive the same entry level training as an employee. The curriculum covers the industry's history, safety, customer service, troubleshooting and a human resource segment on applying for a job.

"It's real-world experience. I'm hoping it will serve as a model for the county," said Petrino.

In the back of Petrino's classroom is a six-foot high functional mock cable plant, outfitted with its own power supply, constructed by the students. Field trips included visiting Bay News 9 to watch a news production and a field trip to the hub of Time Warner regional communications. Time Warner's local access Channel 7 remote-feed truck visited the school at 4940 62nd St. N for a taping equipment demonstration.

"We bring in specialists from each department to take students all the way from cable installation through to the technical end," said Michele DeGennaro, technical trainer for Time Warner.

On this day, Marotta showed students how data passes though the "streets," asking each Internet server along the way what its address is, as routers sort mail. Marotta will next demonstrate a protocol analyzer, which plugs into the computer and sees how quickly packets of data move between the PC and the Internet. The analyzer will help students learn how the system can be made to transport information more quickly.

"The Internet is not a guaranteed delivery system," said Marotta.

Marotta said the Internet began in the early 1970s as a U.S. government project to connect colleges, institutions and the military. In the event of a national disaster and the loss of telephone lines, communication would be uninterrupted. As its use grew, the number of employees who could install, repair or sell the service did not. "All this has to be supported by people," said Marotta. "If something goes down, you have to call somebody."

Time Warner hopes the course will result in recruiting summer interns and future employees. The program is expected to expand to Boca Ciega and Northeast high schools next year.

"It takes them from school to work," said Dixie Hollins High School assistant principal Debbie Fabrizio. We have a strong graphic arts program and so many students who go to work when they finish high school. This will qualify them for a job with a good salary even before they graduate."

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