VALLEY LIFE Education L AST SUMMER, Elexia Wynn headed to work each day as a computer machinist at Wabtec Graham-White's offices in Salem. She put in 40-hour weeks, brought home thousands of dollars in pay, broke gender barriers and completed highly technical procedures - even though she was only 18 and a recent graduate of Cave Spring High School. Wynn was able to step into a skilled position at such an early age because of the know-how she acquired at Burton Center for Arts & Technology during her years of mechatronics study - and because of a high school apprenticeship program recently begun in Roanoke County that allowed her to spend her senior year learning the ropes at Graham-White. 26 2020 VALLEY LIFE Today, she studies mechatronics at Virginia Western Community College, while working part-time making transportation components. She dreams of one day creating lifelike robotic prosthetic limbs. "It's a really neat program," says Wynn of her years at Burton and her apprenticeship. "I tell every high school kid it's a very, very good opportunity.... It opens doors for you and maybe helps you get another cool job in the future." Where technical programs and trade schools were once seen as a track for low-achieving students, today there's a growing awareness that courses in engineering, cybersecurity and marketing can give even the most ambitious high schoolers a leg up on their journey to college and career.