Sheena Conner spent most of yesterday in the kitchen -- chopping beets and spinach in the morning, working on an ice carving in the afternoon, then making pasta dough.
Last night, the 15-year-old culinary arts student was expertly threading the freshly made pasta through a noodle maker at the annual open house of her high school, Anne Arundel's Center For Applied Technology (CAT) North in Severn.
"I love this program," said Conner, a junior who plans to attend the Pennsylvania Culinary College in Pittsburgh. "We had the whole class doing knot rolls this week -- it was great."
The open house at CAT North is a yearly opportunity to showcase the school's career and technology curriculum -- previously known as vocational education.
Middle-schoolers and their parents are invited to sample the program offerings and check out potential career paths.
Principal John Hammond Jr., who planned for a crowd of 1,600 people at the open house, said the event is a chance for career and technology students to show off their work.
"We start talking about it a year in advance, and we'll pump it up all year long," Hammond said.
The demonstrations and displays were spread throughout CAT North's sprawling building.
Masonry students had built a castle-like brick structure, complete with a goldfish-stocked moat.
Students in auto maintenance displayed repaired engines. Carpentry students were building a shed. (One student, sounding a little disappointed, said they had wanted to build a house, but it was cut from the budget.)
Long lines formed to purchase goods made by the baking and pastry class.
Chris Adcock, a baking and pastry student, bought 10 dozen chocolate chip cookies for $30 to share with junior varsity teammates at Glen Burnie High School, and a $14 cheesecake for his father.
With about 1,400 students, who spend part of their school day at traditional high schools, CAT North is the largest of the county's two career centers.
CAT South in Edgewater has about 650 students.
The centers offer high school students classes in 24 career-based programs, ranging from auto repair to culinary arts and computer networking technology.
School officials said they rely heavily on the local business community to identify employers' needs and develop new programs. In the past year, the number of business and education partnerships at CAT North has more than doubled, from 70 to 149.
"We have a small group of business people for each one of 24 programs, and we meet with them at least once a year to talk about curriculum, equipment and job opportunities," said Tom E. Miller, director of career and technical education for county schools.
"We're very much driven by the economy and business employer needs," Miller said, noting that the demand for computer-related and technological jobs continues to grow.
But he said that employees in traditional trades, including plumbing, carpentry and masonry, are also needed.
"We find that all the trade and technical areas and anything in computers seems to be big," Miller said. "Nowhere are employers saying we don't need any more workers."
One of the newer offerings at CAT North is a curriculum designed by Cisco Systems, a manufacturer of computer networking equipment.
Cisco approached the school system last year with a program to teach high school students how to design, build and maintain a computer network.
"In the industry, there is a huge shortage ," said Gene Longo, U.S. field operations manager for Cisco. In the United States, he said, 350,000 jobs are vacant in the information technology field.
The four-semester Cisco "academy" includes course work as well as hands-on experience in computer network design and repair on lab equipment provided by Cisco.
As one of Cisco's six regional centers in Maryland, the program at CAT North trains teachers for the company's programs in other schools.
On completion of the course, students may take an examination to receive a certified network associate certificate.
"A student with a certificate could probably go to the work force with a starting salary between $25,000 and $35,000 on average," Longo said.