TAMMS — In a town known more for its supermax prison, Five County Regional Vocational Center has carved out its own niche with the region’s high school student population.
Five County serves five school districts — Cairo, Egyptian, Dongola, Century and Anna-Jonesboro — offering career paths in auto mechanics, body shop, health occupations, culinary arts and child and day care. All but the Anna-Jonesboro district are closed campuses, which require bus transportation to the Center.
“All these kids can cook,” said Carolyn J. Marable, culinary arts instructor. “We use locally-grown produce, offer a cooking class for mothers and make our cornbread from scratch.
“We don’t do Jiffy mix here.”
Five County is seeing the effects of a recent boom in vocational education, with President Barack Obama seeking to invest an additional $1 billion in increasing partnerships between high schools, colleges and employers. The goal is to direct students toward high-need industries.
“The idea of a career center is to offer programs that students would otherwise not be able to get,” said Five County director Jerry Ohlau. “Smaller schools can’t afford to have their own automotive repair shop, but collectively they can because those funds can get more students coming (to the center).”
Five County’s automotive shop is located in a former high school gymnasium and equipped with four vehicle lifts and five cars for hands-on training. The program has strong connections with Nashville (Tenn.) Auto-Diesel College and Lindenwood University.
“Some of the manufacturing jobs are coming back to the U.S. from other countries, but they’re different now in that they require more skill,” Ohlau said. “I think that’s where we need to be headed and these vocational programs need to be teaching these addi-tional skills.
“You’re always going to need plumbers, you’re always going to need auto mechanics, you’re always going to need healthcare and we have to make sure we have quality students in those areas.”
Five County’s health occupations program teaches the federally-required 21 performance skills that are needed for the Illinois Nurse Aide Competency Evaluation. Students must show competency in all 21 areas in order to complete basic nursing assistant training.
Using a life-size model of an assisted care facility patient room, complete with mannequins, students learn how to give patients baths, dress them, calculate their intake and outtake of fluids and apply and remove personal protective equipment, among other tasks.
“My main hope for my students is that they go on to become productive citizens in our community and have some pride in them-selves,” said Roziene Dumas, resident nurse at Five County and leader of its health occupations program. “We work mostly with geriatric patients who were once people just like they are.
“They were young, went to school, had jobs, married, had families and we hope (our students) treat them just like they would want to be treated.”
Down the hall, Amanda Hazel teaches childcare and parenting skills — an area that is being benefitted greatly by the U.S. economic recovery. The daycare industry showed a 1.4 percent annual growth from 2008-13, according to IBISWorld, with revenue of $47 billion.
“The students go out every Monday and work at Emerson Elementary School in Cairo in classrooms pre-Kindergarten through first grade,” Hazel said. “They help the teachers and it helps prepare them for careers related to childcare.”
Looking toward the future, there is an increasing acknowledgement that the traditional education focus on college-bound youth needs to change. A growing concern is that the U.S. is not producing workers with the proper skills to be successful in the global economy.
“There’s a lot of good careers coming up that don’t require a four-year college degree, but they do require some skills beyond high school,” Ohlau said. “It seems like, through the years, career and technical schools have been put on the back burner to push more for the core subjects.
“We’ve been steering away from some of these skills that are necessary.”
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