Career Tech programs shaping student futures

“We’re challenged with preparing students for careers that haven’t been invented,” said Dr. Al Griffin, superintendent of Demopolis City Schools.

To help them get ready for those careers, students at Demopolis High School now have six Career Tech curricula to choose from, courses that not only are relevant but provide employable opportunities in the west Alabama area.

Highly skilled workers are needed for 70 percent of the jobs today, Griffin said. Another 20 percent require a four-year college degree, but unskilled laborers fill only 10 percent of the jobs.

Many of the Career Tech programs at DHS offer credentials and certificates to graduates, which give them a head-start as they enter the work force or go on to community college.

“We must do what is best for students,” Griffin said, and advisory committees made up of business and professional people in Demopolis give guidance to the program directors.

Businesses don’t want to take the time for on-the-job training, said Dr. Tony Speegle, DHS principal. One way DHS can help is by shortening the training time. Not only is that an advantage for businesses, but students can get a step ahead of others and be finished with training in a shorter amount of time.

The school’s counselors, Bill Barley and Leslie May, “have really done an outstanding job and that has really helped us.”

Career Tech director Adam Sealy “is really, really good at thinking outside the box and looking ahead seeing what needs to be done,” added Speegle.

Now in his third year as director, Sealy’s background was in elementary education “There is no career tech in elementary education,” he joked.

He has been learning on the job. The hardest part is finding qualified teachers, he admitted. The Agri-Science program went through four teachers in two years.

The other curricula include Culinary Arts, Health Science, the Academy of Insurance and Finance, Precision Machining, and ROTC.

“Our programs are more based on not what we think we need but what the community thinks we need,” said Sealy, although each one follows the guidelines set by the state Department of Education.

“If you’re not going to college you have to be ready for a career, and that’s what career tech does.”

What DHS Career Tech classes provide doesn’t differ from what community colleges are offering, he continued. “It’s pretty much taking community college in high school.”

DHS is in the process of setting up dual enrollment with Shelton State Community College so that graduates will have completed one or two courses at that school. “Funding is the biggest obstacle to do what we need to do,” Sealy continued. “There’s no trouble finding students.”

Grants have helped establish the Career Tech programs, he said. Other aid come from businesses that donate materials, “which has helped out a lot.”

Career Tech doesn’t start in high school, Sealy said. All eighth graders are given a Kuder Test to determine what career track best suits them, and they are presented a four-year plan for high school based on their interests and likes, should they choose to take it.

The idea for the kids, said Sealy, is not to “waste any of your hours during the day taking something that you’ll never use.”

Ideally Sealy would like to see the programs placed in a Career Tech center.

Precision Maintenance director Charles Jones shares the vision. He imagines a fully contained, stand-alone Career Tech campus to house the classes.

The program directors are finding that their students can benefit by working together. Andi Turberville, the Culinary Arts director, said she and the Academy of Insurance and Finance directors Kelly Gandy and Courtney Kerby have talked about units of study on making business plans for restaurants.

“We actually have lots of plans with (Agri-Sci) too. We want (Nick Bussey) to help us grow a garden. So we can kind of use all of our Career Tech pieces and create something big. That’s all grand ideas that we have.”

Gandy and Kerby would like to see a stand-alone academy setting in Demopolis eventually. Such an arrangement fosters a family-like togetherness with each student helping the other. The idea is not to lose any at-risk students and to prepare them for college or to go from high school directly to the work force.

Speegle and Sealy continue to look to expanding the Career Tech program beyond the six curricula now offered. They hope to continue what has begun at the middle school level and offer broadcasting to up to 72 high school students.

A lot of what is needed to get the program up and running is in place, but a grant now is being written to fund a camera and special computers.

The course will offer video editing and design as well as producing live broadcasts.

This would be a great partnership with the city, said Speegle, and a good way to promote DHS, DCS and the City of Demopolis.

This story is part of a series highlighting the career tech programs at Demopolis High School. The series will appear on Sundays throughout February in honor of Career Tech Month.