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Skilled trade classes needed
Training opens doors for studentsBy Brenda Bernet
Michael Fuentes started learning to weld at the age of 12 and won awards for his skill at contests in high school.
Fuentes, 20, took welding classes at Hereford High School that encouraged him to pursue a career in the trade.
He now makes about $50,000 a year as a pipeline welder and attends Tulsa Welding School in Oklahoma. Fuentes said his earning potential will rise once he finishes his training to become a master welder.
"Shoot. I love it," he said.
Vocational classes led Fuentes to the career he enjoys, but now high school students in Texas have less time to fit them in.
Starting with the class of 2011 - this year's sophomores - students must have four years of math and science, in addition to four years of English and social studies, to graduate, said state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas. The extra math and science credits leave little room for students to take elective courses that might fuel an interest in skilled trades.
Swinford is looking for a way to offer students more opportunities for vocational training.
"We have a great need for some other folks, plumbers, electricians, welders," Swinford said.
Hereford High School's Career and Technical Education program offers dozens of courses in law enforcement, accounting, cosmetology, automotive technology, building trades, health science technology and agriculture. The program serves more than three-quarters of the school's 1,170 students.
"We're teaching them a skill so they can have a viable means of making a living," said Michelle DeLozier, program director. "They still get all the academic stuff too."
While many of the career courses incorporate math and science, most of them do not count toward the four-year requirements for those subjects, DeLozier said.
Career and technical courses teach students skills that open up the possibility of earning more than minimum wage after high school. They could use those skills to support themselves through college, enter a technical program or enter the work force.
"The jobs are there for skilled workers," DeLozier said. "Why not train them in this way?"
Swinford envisions a proposal that would allow the student, the student's parents and school officials to determine the best track for success after graduation, he said. If four years of math, science, social studies and English don't fit that student, Swinford would like them to have the option of learning mechanical, medical or building skills.
"Those jobs are not bad jobs," Swinford said.
River Road Superintendent Randy Owen said he often hears from business representatives about the need for truck drivers and mechanics, jobs that require specialized training but not necessarily a university degree.
"What we have right now is one highway to success," Owen said.
Owen said he would like to see the state provide a "freeway with six lanes," that would allow parents and students to choose the best career path. High schools not only should help students who desire to go on to Texas Tech University, Baylor University and West Texas A&M University, but also students who will not choose college.
"What we're missing is the ability to prepare the rest of the kids for 65 years of work," Owen said. "We're effectively denying them an opportunity to be successful."
Fuentes learned a lot in the welding program at Hereford High School. He spent class time welding on a small motorcycle and a car. Family circumstances prevented Fuentes from earning his high school diploma. He obtained a General Educational Development certificate instead.
Fuentes would have pursued a career in welding either way, he said.
"I do what I love doing," Fuentes said. "It's what you want to go into."
Celebrate Education is a yearlong community project to encourage lifelong learning and help raise the education level in the Texas Panhandle.
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