Career tech conference hosts over 200 local educators

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Educators learn about EKG training at the Oxford career tech conference. Photo courtesy of Carl Brady.

By Emma Kirkemier, Staff Correspondent

Local career technical program directors recently held a three-day conference in Oxford, inviting career technical educators from across the region to attend.

There were about 240 participants from school districts across the region, including educators from Etowah, Cherokee, Calhoun Cleburne, Talladega, Clay and Randolph counties.

With the state Alabama Works conference being held online in both 2020 and 2021, David Asbury, CTE director for Gadsden City Schools, said directors “really felt that our teachers needed some face-to-face time not only with business and industry leaders but with each other.”

This was the first Alabama Works conference to be held at the regional, not state, level.

The first day was held in the Oxford Civic Center, where attendees heard presentations from local business and industry leaders and representatives from local colleges. For the next two days, attendees were broken into groups by program area and given tours of facilities throughout the region.

Presenters included Anthony May of the State Department of Education, Bethanne Mashburn of the Etowah County Chamber of Commerce and Jason Wilson of Back Forty Beer Company.

“Health sciences went to Gadsden State and to Coosa Valley Medical Center and just talked to the educators at Gadsden State,” said Carl Brady, workforce program manager at East Alabama Works.

According to the conference agenda, architecture and construction educators toured Gadsden State’s Ayers campus, including the school’s Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education program facility.

“We actually got to load up on the school bus and go tour Dixie Green,” said Allison Heald, an agriscience teacher at Southside High School who attended the conference. “It’s a greenhouse facility that’s owned by Hank Richardson in Centre. I was so excited about that because I actually use them when I do my mum sale. I wholesale my mums in the fall from them, so I actually got to see their facilities, and I actually got to see the mums that they had already started that we’ll be selling.”

Heald also described a trip to the Oxford Wastewater Treatment Plant, where educators saw wastewater be reoxygenated and pumped back into Choccolocco Creek cleaner than before.

“I would like to be able to take my students out to see that,” Heald said. “That was pretty cool. We actually have that in Rainbow City, so that would be a convenient field trip close by.”

Between the lectures and the tours, the conference had contributions from colleges including Gadsden State Community College, Jacksonville State University, Southern Union Community College and Central Alabama Community College.

Contributing businesses included General Dynamics, Brasfield & Gorrie, Arcosa and Big Time Entertainment.

“If we can build better relationships with business and industry and with the postsecondary folks in our region, then it’s going to benefit them as we prepare the workforce,” said Mark Stancil, CTE director for Etowah County Schools. “It’s going to benefit us, and it’s going to benefit our students.”

Part of the goal for the regional conference, Stancil said, was to provide an alternative to online professional development.

“Our goal was for it to be a hands-on, project-based (conference) as much as possible,” he said. “Career tech is hands-on, project-based learning. Our focus is learn by doing, so that’s what we wanted.”

From feedback the directors have gathered so far, Stancil and Asbury both said that attendees were grateful for the in-person, hands-on activities.

“After the year we’ve had, where either all of our PD’s been virtual, we’ve just been staring at a computer or staring at a wall, it was really nice to actually be able to do stuff that’s hands-on and talk to other humans and it feel human again,” Heald said.

The conference provided educators with a chance to network with others in their field.

Kevin Lockridge, CTE Director for Calhoun County Schools, said the goal was for educators to “collaborate and maybe even do some competitions if you’re nearby.”

Heald said she wanted to make her program, agriscience “a lot stronger,” through local collaboration.

“The teacher over from Etowah High School and I have talked about doing a greenhouse activity together in the future where he’s willing to bus his kids over to Southside and us work through something together doing, like, treatment and recovering the plastic and stuff like that,” she said.

Heald mentioned that networking with other educators helped to expand the resources she could offer her students. While Heald specializes in animal science, she said she was able to swap both emails and ideas with agriscience educators with other specialties.

Lockridge, who helped facilitate activities for the business group, said attendees heard from “about 10 different business leaders and entrepreneurs.”

“We had a lot of support from everybody we asked to help us,” Lockridge said.

Stancil said that the conference received so much support from local businesses and colleges that “it didn’t cost us anything.” He was able to “reallocate some of those funds for other needs” that he had anticipated spending on the conference.

“I think it’s going to be something that grows into other regions of the state,” Brady said.

Directors and attendees alike expressed hopes to repeat the conference annually.

“We hope to and plan to continue and repeat (this conference) next year and improve on it,” Asbury said.

Heald agreed.

“Don’t let me only do this one time and not offer this next year,” she said. “That’s something that I need every summer.”

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