Bradley Helms of Etowah County has a passion for repairing machines and discovering how they work. The 2010 graduate of Gaston High School developed valuable skills while tinkering with equipment in agriscience classes in the school’s career tech program.
“If you learn a good trade, (opportunities) will always be there,” said Helms, who is currently studying industrial automation at Gadsden State Community College and works as a computer numerical control (CNC) machine operator. “Having updated equipment makes things easier. For (students) to do their best, they have to have the best tools possible.”
Training students to capitalize on the demand for skilled labor is the driving force behind increased funding for career tech programs in Alabama public schools.
During the 2013 legislative session, the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) supported an additional $50 million to update career tech equipment.
Thirty million dollars will be disbursed based on number of career tech programs and student enrollment. High schools must apply for the remaining $20 million available to new and established programs as reimbursement. Career tech programs must partner with local industries to fulfill application requirements.
“It’s important our members contact schools and create working industry partnerships,” said Federation Young Farmers Director Jennifer Himburg, who serves on the governor’s College and Career Ready Task Force. “Rural Alabama and the agriculture industry have fallen behind larger manufacturers in building career tech partnerships. If we don’t act, the $20 million available for grants will go to schools with established industry relationships, and rural career tech programs, including agriscience departments, will fall further behind.”
Statistics show investing in career tech pays dividends for students, schools and communities. According to ALSDE, students with strong career tech backgrounds show improved math and science test scores when compared to other students. The national career tech graduation rate is 90 percent, a full 15 points higher than the national graduation rate, according to the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium.
Wilcox Central High School Career Tech Department Head Willie Gholston said he’s seen firsthand how proper career tech training changes students into productive citizens with marketable skills.
“When kids leave this classroom to go out to industry, business leaders say over and over they want someone who’s used the latest equipment — the equipment used by their business,” said Gholston, one of Alabama’s 2013 FFA Advisors of the Year. “That’s why it’s important we keep funding and updating our program and equipment to prepare our students.”
Gholston teaches agriscience at WCHS, one of 16 “career clusters” included in Alabama’s career tech curriculum.
Keontris Williams, a senior in Gholston’s program, said he plans to use agriscience skills in his career.
“I can see myself being a farmer after I graduate,” Williams said. “Career tech is like a second school for me. I always look forward to these classes.”
Williams and Helms are just two examples of students excelling because of career tech. According to Helms, lessons he learned from GHS agriscience teacher Paul Beasley extend far beyond the school shop.
“We always had fun, and there was never a dull moment,” said Helms. “Mr. Beasley always taught us to work hard and finish what we started, whether it’s in the (workplace) or at home.”