As Career and Technical Education Month has rolled along day by day during February, students in classrooms at South Panola and North Panola CTE facilities have worked on autos, cared for children, built interior and exterior structures, prepared meals — it’s a long list.
Outside classrooms, CTE students have visited industries, hospitals, community colleges and universities. CTE students are eligible for membership in a number of organizations that cater specifically to them — the National Technical Honor Society (NTHS), the Health Occupations Specialty Association (HOSA), the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Skills USA, Future Farmers of America (FFA), Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), and Technology Student Association.
“In career and tech, student organizations are written into our program,” SP CTE Center Principal Leslie Busby said. “We encourage all of our students to participate in the student organizations,” he continued, citing advantages of teamwork, meeting protocol, exposure to other people and places and the pressure of making presentations in front of strangers.
The dramatic, top-down, bottom-up emphasis on career and technical education is designed to give college bound students job experiences to help them determine career plans and workforce-bound students skills that they can put to immediate use for employers.
“When they leave our programs, they understand tools, they understand equipment, they understand safety, they understand the soft employability skills; they understand how to operate that area of their training,” Busby said. “When they walk in, you’re not teaching a kid: ‘Alright, now this is a welder and helmet, you have to put it on,’” Busby said; “‘this is a welding machine, you’ve got to turn it on and this is how you set it.’”
“They already can do that; they can walk up, turn it on and go to welding for you, and weld a pretty good bead,” Busby continued.
Students who complete North Panola Career and Technical Education Center’s programs in carpentry or information technology take a national certification exam that verifies their skills for potential employers.
“It’s good in Mississippi and Tennessee and wherever they happen to go,” NPCTE Center Director La’Keldra Pride said. “It doesn’t guarantee them a job, but it looks good on a résumé. It’s telling an employer, ‘Oh, you have this type of certification,’ and you are 17 or 18, fresh out of high school … It gives me a reason to want to hire you,” Pride said.
Welding and carpentry CTE students at SPCTE Center can sit for national certification tests in welding and construction carpentry, Busby said. Successful completion places the student in a national registry and provides a card attesting the certification.
“When they go to an interview that’s in their field, they can lay that little card down, and it will get them an interview,” the SPCTE Center Principal said.
This year, both districts will receive grants of $5,000 each from the Appalachian Regional Council that will be used to fund trips for college tours and for on-campus workshops, including financial aid workshops for students and parents, according to Panola Partnership Economic Development Assistant Meredith Fleming.
ARC grant funds are channeled through the Partnership which administers the funds, relieving the school districts of grant administration paperwork, Fleming said.
“Expose,” Fleming continued. “They (ARC) want to expose them.
“While y’all are saying, ‘Yes, we want to expose them to life outside Panola County and the real world,’ we want them to stay here,” Fleming said. “We’ve educated them; our tax dollars have paid to educate them, and we want to continue to educate them and for them to come back here and work for our industries.”
As Career and Technical Education Month unfolds, the students enrolled in the courses should find a level of comfort knowing that there are potential employers both locally and distant who will be looking forward to their applications.
By John Howell, The Panolian
February 19, 2016