Steel Center students get training for life
Students are looking toward the future at Steel Center Area Vocational-Technical School in Jefferson Hills.
“I would like to work more hands-on,” said Dylan Kenders, a South Allegheny junior learning heating, air conditioning and refrigeration.
“I'd like to pursue a career similar to what I am doing in this class,” said Alec Hostuttler of Bethel Park, a senior getting hands-on time in an advertising course covering a range from desktop publishing to cutting movie trailers.
“This young man does a lot of photography for this school,” Steel Center Area director Kevin E. Rice said.
Steel Center draws 625 secondary-age students and 85 percent of the revenue for its budget from Clairton City, Duquesne City, Elizabeth Forward, South Allegheny, Steel Valley, West Jefferson Hills, West Mifflin Area, Baldwin-Whitehall, Bethel Park, Brentwood and South Park Township districts.
It also draws at any given time 500-600 adults for courses from a couple of days for auto inspection certification to 18 months for practical nursing.
“We have some big things on the horizon for continuing education,” Rice said, talking about plans to provide a pathway to a quicker associate or bachelor's degree.
Steel Center is one of four vo-tech schools serving the Mon-Yough area. Others are McKeesport Area Technology Center in McKeesport; Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Stanton with 10 sending districts including Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Yough; and Forbes Road Career and Technology Center in Monroeville with nine sending districts including East Allegheny, Gateway and Woodland Hills.
“We are an extra hallway down in every high school,” said Rice, now in his second year as Steel Center director.
Changes happened. Four programs were cut but enrollment still rose 2 percent.
“We are in a major overhaul,” Rice said.
Changes range from streamlining facilities to adjusting schedules. Rice said some students used to arrive at 6:50 a.m. but didn't have their first classes until 7:30 a.m.
Some eliminated programs could come back as part of a larger effort to rejuvenate training for the manufacturing sector, an effort that affects both classes for high school students and continuing education for adults.
Adult education efforts include courses for a growing Marcellus shale-related economy. Some classes will aid U.S. Steel's McKeesport Tubular Operations.
“We have a contract with U.S. Steel for welding classes,” said assistant director for continuing education Dennis McCarthy.
Meanwhile, Rice and others in vo-tech education are stressing the need for students to focus on more than just a diploma that may or may not result in a job. Rice quoted an expert at a recent Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators seminar in Hershey.
“Our goal for children should be a post-secondary life with a plan and purpose rather than college by default,” said Hans Meeder, president of the National Center for College and Career Transitions in Columbia, Md.
Rice pointed to “Pathways to Prosperity,” a February 2011 report from Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. It found that only 56 percent of high school graduates who go to college earn their bachelor's degrees within six years.
The report cited “growing evidence of a ‘skills gap' in which many young adults lack the skills and work ethic needed for many jobs which pay a middle-class wage.”
Rice said many come home with diminished dreams, broken promises and student loan debt.
“Graduates of a career and technical education tend to leave high school much more focused than your typical high school graduate,” Rice said.
Dylan, Alec and their high school classmates just came through Career and Technical Education Month.
In the past, Rice said, Steel Center students would have marked CTE Month with a dance. Instead, 210 members of the SkillsUSA chapter there conducted a field trip Feb. 22 event at Rostraver Ice Garden.
“SkillsUSA is a national organization that provides many leadership activities for today's youth,” said Barbara Sedok, academic facilitator for math at Steel Center.
There was skating, Sedok said, but also “workshops on discovering your personality type, team-building activities and leadership activities.”
With CTE Month behind it, Steel Center is preparing for the annual National Occupational Competency Testing Institute exams March 18-23. For vo-tech schools it is an equivalent of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment or Keystone Exams.
They're also tied to Carl D. Perkins Vocational Grants the federal government provides through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Rice said Steel Center received a $280,000 grant this year, but the proposed state budget for 2013-14 includes a 5.1 percent decrease in Perkins grants.
More details on Steel Center are at www.scavts.net.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.