The St. Landry Parish School District has revamped its career and technical offerings to meet workforce demands in the region in everything from health care workers to electricians.
In the last two years, new programs have been added and old ones revived at the Career and Technical Center in Washington, one of two such centers for the large parish. The other is in Eunice.
Electrical and automotive technology were offered in Washington “years ago,” but fell away until Principal Reginald Bush and his team brought them back last year. Two other programs — medical assistant and hotel hospitality — were offered for the first time last year, which was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Revamping the career and technical offerings, which already were vast, has been a concerted effort in the district.
“We want to offer our students as many pathways as we can that fit their interests,” said Therese Ellender, supervisor of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) for St. Landry Parish schools.
“It’s really important we’re able to fulfill the job market in our area and region. Students have opportunities when they get out (of high school).”
Whether they use these experiences and certificates toward more education or to go straight into the workforce, it’s all still going to a career, she said. It also allows them to complete the state’s JumpStart or technical diploma option.
Pursuing interests as well as a career
Students take the courses and test for industry credentials in welding or other fields, and those certifications attach to their transcripts like Advanced Placement scores or college credits. They’re a sign to business and industry that graduates already have some hands-on training and could hit the ground running on the job.
“This saves businesses time and money,” Bush said.
It also helps develop the whole child, he said, as many of his students are pursuing interests passed down through family or fields that spark something within them.
James Henry, a senior at Port Barre High School, knew he loved carpentry even before he started taking it for credit.
“I just did it with my daddy,” Henry said. “I loved it.”
Under the watchful eyes of instructor Ed Harris, the 18-year-old senior used power tools to cut and install railings on a porch he and his classmates have been building inside their large shop in the back of the center. It’s one of the projects Henry is most proud of, he said Tuesday.
In the shop next door students like Opelousas High senior Bobby Guillory were welding. This is Guillory’s second year at the center but first in welding. He tried out an oil and gas class last year, but it wasn’t really for him.
“It was more of a classroom environment. I’m more hands-on, so I chose welding,” the 19-year-old said. “I like how I can be by myself doing it.”
Now he plans to pursue welding after high school, and he can, Bush said.
“The opportunities are here,” the principal said.
Responding to demands in the job market
Demand for more health-care professionals led the district to shift its certified nurse assistant program to a medical assistant course, and demand only grew as the pandemic made its way to Louisiana.
Students in the medical assistant class were practicing phlebotomy skills Tuesday with plastic straws serving as veins. Once they get that down, they’ll move on to sticking an artificial arm.
It’s one of the pieces of equipment that helps them to learn how to take care of the body. There’s a blood pressure arm that has a pulse and a model with metal strings that represent nerve fibers within the spine.
“It’s important to have a visual with everything we cover,” instructor Rebecca Fontenot said. “We just finished the nervous system. We do a little bit of everything here.”
She wants them to be prepared for anything they might face on the job, including office management and medical coding.
One graduate of the program is putting her experience to work as a medical assistant for a nurse practitioner in Sunset, and another still in the program just turned down a job offer so she can finish her training, Fontenot said.
“The opportunities for these children with these programs to go directly to work is amazing,” Fontenot said. “They’re really exposed to the whole nutshell (of this field).”
Programs are offered across the district
Ten programs are offered at the Washington center:
- automotive technology
- hotel hospitality
- medical assistant
- oil and gas production
- ProStart (culinary)
Welding and cosmetology have the most students and two instructors each, Bush said. Altogether, the center sees about 270 students in its programs this year, including 25 students taking classes virtually.
“It’s not easy, but with COVID we have to make it work,” Bush said.
He expects to see more in future years, as programs expand and the revamp continues. And word of mouth from alumni can be powerful, he said.
“The kids sell the programs themselves, if they have fun and when they get a job,” the principal said.
St. Landry students can ride buses from their base school to the centers in Washington or Eunice, which offers six programs — automotive technology, carpentry, culinary arts, health sciences, oil and gas/T2 safety systems and welding.
Several schools also offer their own career and technical programs.
There’s app creation in the STEM Academy at Opelousas Junior High. Beau Chene High has drafting, Northwest High has robotics and Opelousas High has the Biomedical Academy, just to name a few.
“We want to keep up with workforce development and train the kids to keep up with it,” Bush said.
Contact children’s issues reporter Leigh Guidry at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.