Career-oriented education is expanding in the Wilkes County schools, largely through the statewide Career and College Promise (CCP) program.
CCP is a partnership between public schools and community colleges through which high school juniors and seniors take college courses and simultaneously earn college credits toward a certificate, diploma or associate (two-year) degree and high school elective credit.
The program has two groups of “pathways.”
One is the transfer program toward earning a four-year college or university degree and the other focuses on technical skills needed for getting available, good-paying jobs. Both offer substantial savings in tuition and educational supply costs for dual-enrolled (high school and community college) students.
With increased emphasis on matching public school and community college education with needs of employers, technical job skill pathways have accounted for most of the growth of CCP in the Wilkes schools.
Adrian Tate, director of the Boone-based High Country Workforce Development Board, said CCP helps address critical needs.
“There is a huge disconnect among youths with their understanding of today’s jobs,” said Tate. “Programs like Career and College Promise are a great thing. They will help many kids go into careers that are needed and that pay well.”
The number of public high school juniors and seniors in CCP in Wilkes, a partnership between the Wilkes schools and Wilkes Community College (WCC), has more than tripled since 2012. CCP enrollment totaled 108 in the fall semester of 2012, 228 in the fall of 2013 and an anticipated 331 for fall 2014, said Becky Kennedy, CCP director and a WCC employee. Final numbers for fall 2014 haven’t been released yet.
Mrs. Kennedy said she and other WCC officials are working closely with Todd Williams, Wilkes schools’ director of career technical education (CTE), and other Wilkes school officials to expand CCP pathways offered next year.
She said applied engineering, automotive, basic CAD and construction, criminal justice, horticulture, early childhood and welding CCP and four-year college transfer pathways were offered in the 2013-14 school year at East Wilkes, West Wilkes, North Wilkes and Wilkes Central high schools.
Animal science will be added at all four of these high schools and applied engineering, horticulture and automotive will be added at North Wilkes next fall. Courses within the technical programs will be available to students next year at the Wilkes Early College High School.
Among CCP pathways in the Wilkes schools, participation is largest in criminal justice, automotive and welding. Automotive includes diesel and collision repair.
Mrs. Kennedy shared summaries of the many hands-on automotive, welding and other career technology-related projects completed in Wilkes high school classes this year.
The owner of a 1993 Ford Ranger dared Matthew Ham and his automotive technology class at Wilkes Central to try to get it running after a dealership gave up on the vehicle.
The pickup’s fuel delivery and ignition systems didn’t function and most of the vehicle’s parts were inside the cab, said Ham. Students rewired the engine control system for the ignition and fuel delivery, rebuilt the drum brakes, replaced rusted out brake lines and adjusted the ignition in two weeks to return the truck to service.
“After the ignition wiring repair, to watch the students see that truck fire for the first time was priceless. The sense of pride that they took on with this project was incredible to watch…. Watching a student grow in confidence is the greatest reward that I, as an automotive instructor, can receive,” said Ham.
State officials have recognized the CCP partnership in Wilkes for being unusually positive and productive. Gov. Pat McCrory and his predecessor, Beverly Pardue, visited WCC to learn more about CCP here.
It’s among the few, if not the only, CCP partnership in the state with college instructors teaching some CCP courses at high schools instead of having them all on college campuses, said Hardin Kennedy, WCC transportation technologies chairman and SkillsUSA advisor.
Hardin and Becky Kennedy are husband and wife and are part of a team of WCC and Wilkes school officials working together to promote career-oriented education in Wilkes County.
Kennedy, in his first term as a Wilkes school board member, enthusiastically talks about the many area employers who often contact WCC looking for students to hire to fill welding, automotive repair, applied engineering, electrician, construction, healthcare and other jobs requiring technical skills.
Kennedy said that despite increased enrollment in these programs, partly due to CCP, the college still isn’t producing enough students to meet needs of area employers.
He cited students who couldn’t find jobs related to their two-year and four-year non-technical degrees who got jobs with good pay after completing training in certain technical fields at WCC.
Kennedy is equally enthusiastic about SkillsUSA, a career and technical student organization that provides opportunities for students to compete on the basis of their occupational skills on the regional, state and national levels. Students in the Wilkes high schools and at WCC have placed well in the competitions, including winning several state and national championships.
First place state winners who will soon compete in the SkillsUSA national competition in Kansas City, Mo., are Colt Holcomb of East Wilkes in diesel and heavy equipment technology, Aaron Bullis of North Wilkes in welding and Garrett Fender, Jordan Richardson and Brandon Combs of East Wilkes in the welding fabrication team competition.
Mike McNeil, owner of Mike’s Body Shop in North Wilkesboro, said at least eight to 10 of the people he has hired to work in his auto body repair shop went through automotive programs at WCC.
McNeil said he graduated from high school and completed other post-secondary education without finding a career path when he enrolled in WCC’s automotive mechanics program because he liked to work on cars and discovered what he wanted to do with his life.
Wilkes County school officials say CCP helped increase the Wilkes high school graduation rate to 90.1 percent, the highest ever, in the 2012-13 school year. Rates in prior years included 86.6 percent in 2011-12, 80.7 percent in 2010-11, 74.6 percent in 2009-10 and 70.9 percent in 2008-09. The 2013-14 graduation rate hasn’t been announced yet.
“I think it helps students see the light at the end of the tunnel. It helps them see the value of what they’re learning,” said Kennedy.
Well before CCP was envisioned, said Kennedy, West Wilkes High Principal Wayne Shepherd employed the concept of helping at-risk students remain in school and be successful by working with the community college to provide them with technical education. Shepherd called it the Talon Academy.
Jody Freeman, Student Success coordinator at West Wilkes High, said career-oriented courses, including through CCP, have made a huge difference for many of the students she works with at West.
Each Wilkes high school has a Student Success coordinator who assists students who appear to have increased risks of not succeeding in high school and possibly not graduating.
Junior Sprinkle, a participant in the Student Success and Career and College Promise programs who graduated Friday night at West Wilkes, said discovering how much he enjoys welding made a huge difference for him in high school.
Sprinkle said it made him want to come to school each day, where he was an instructor Mark Daye’s welding classes.
He received a “Principal’s Award” from West Wilkes Principal Wayne Shepherd at the senior honor assembly and an $18,000 scholarship from the mikeroweWORKS Foundation to attend the Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville, Fla. Mike Rowe is the host of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.”