Etowah High’s Career Tech students give back to their local community

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Pictured, from left, Etowah High JROTC instructor Marty Bishop, health and science instructor Stephanie Skelton, Etowah High Principal Dr. Stephen Hall, Sleep in Heavenly Peace’s Tommy and Valerie Goodman, Etowah High Assistant principal Dr. Nathan Ayers, work-based learning instructor Donna Giles and agriscience instructor Skylar Ray present the nonprofit a check from the CTE program for $3,500.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

February represents Career Technical Education Month, a time CTE programs nationwide celebrate the accomplishments students achieve and the successes they gain throughout schools across the country.

Etowah High School’s own CTE program honored a milestone February 23, signifying not just the skills students learn for the workplace, but the compassion they possess for their community.

Etowah High’s CTE program donated $3,500 to Sleep in Heavenly Peace on Tuesday, a local chapter of a national nonprofit that builds, delivers and assembles beds for children and teenagers from the ages of three to 17. Students hosted a 5K race last February, a coin drive classroom competition and other events to fundraise for the nonprofit. While the students were only required to raise a certain monetary amount to cover the cost of supplies for a bed build – the program’s ultimate goal – students far surpassed the minimum, inspired to help those in their own neighborhoods.

“It was a service opportunity for our students to give back,” said Etowah High School CTE Director Jennifer Jones. “It was amazing watching our career tech students get excited about raising money, knowing that money was going to help students that are not far away. This is right there in Etowah County. I think it meant more to them, because they were raising money for someone who could possibly be in their own school.”

Sleep in Heavenly Peace’s realm of influence in Etowah County is vast, affecting children and families in all facets of the community. Jones witnessed the nonprofit’s impact firsthand during the school’s 5K Cupid Shuffle fundraiser, when Attalla Elementary School Principal Greg Edge shared that two students volunteering with the race actually received beds while at the elementary school. After the race, the students’ grandmother spoke with Jones, telling her that her grandchildren participated out of gratitude. The grandmother noted that their participation was their way of giving back, because they were once fortunate enough to receive and understood the blessing that manifested in their lives.

SHP local chapter leaders Tommy and Valerie Goodman emphasized that when children undergo compromised sleeping conditions, it affects their ability to function all throughout the day. Through SHP, they strive to provide as many children as possible with a comfortable and durable place to rest in their homes.

“Our goal is to work as hard as we can to make sure that no child in our community is sleeping on the floor,” said Valerie. “We can’t do that alone. We do that as a community, and we feel like brining the community together to build these beds is building a stronger community.”

While Etowah High’s CTE students were unable to participate in the scheduled bed build due to COVID-19 restrictions, the donation still serves as a significant contribution to an incredible cause. Despite the pandemic’s alterations of day-to-day activities within the school system, Etowah CTE instructors continue brainstorming unique and efficient methods to educate, inspire and instill core values in their students.

“Our mission for our career tech programs in Attalla City is for students to have interactions with industry and community professionals in a real workplace environment or a simulated environment,” said Jones. “Students get that hands-on engagement to begin the pathway toward whatever career field they’re working on, while they’re still in high school.”

Etowah High’s CTE program offers numerous avenues for students to discover their passions and gain beneficial skillsets for future workplace environments. Students can choose from agriscience, cosmetology, education and training, health science, JROTC, work-based learning and EMS family and consumer sciences to determine which route best suits their personal goals and talents.

Etowah High’s work-based learning instructor Donna Giles shared earnings from her students over the past year, who are out in the community working. Work-based learning students (or co-op students) typically attend school during the morning or perform their schoolwork online before going to work. With the option of online-learning, Giles noted that some students are working nearly fulltime jobs as a result of the pandemic.

Last year, Giles instructed 50 students who worked over 25,500 paid hours. Students with unpaid internships logged almost 2,000 unpaid hours. Giles shared that students earned over $206,000 and over $1 million for high school students, when calculating the program’s economic impact on the local community.

“I’m really thankful to have the opportunity to supervise them and help them find jobs,” said Giles.

Stephanie Skelton serves as the health science instructor at Etowah High. She discussed COVID-19’s impact on the CTE program, noting that this year’s focus dwells on internships. While students were excited to enter clinical settings to gain internship hours, the pandemic prevented them from entering the workforce in a traditional sense. Skelton, however, ensured that her students continue learning, despite the setback.

In the place of traditional clinicals, Skelton restructured the program’s internship via a simulated workplace, where students clock in and out each day as they would in a real medical working environment. At the end of each month, students receive simulated paychecks that reflect their earnings in their clinical healthcare jobs.

Every Monday, students receive patient charts detailing various symptoms, situations and conditions. Students must admit patients to the classroom’s simulated hospital, where they will care for the patient each day before discharging them on Friday. Skelton’s classroom mirrors an actual hospital setting, with equipment, beds and mannequins representing human patients.

“We’ve had a great year considering all that’s been affected,” said Skelton. “We’re getting ready for credentialing that is going to take place at the end of the semester. I’ve got a group of students that are doing certified medical assistant, and they’ll be testing on that. We’ve not been able to go to a traditional conference for our student organization HOSA, [but] in turn we’re doing Friday competitions in class. We’re kind of having to be a little creative, but they have been great.”

CTE’s education and training instructor Katie Bowman described the program for anyone interested in the education field or working with children from the ages of one to eight. The education and training pathway provides students with two course options to determine where their interests and strengths reside.

The first takes place in Bowman’s classroom, which mirrors a preschool. Students lead various activities for preschoolers throughout the day, from circle time to snack preparation to stations that focus on technology, art, math and literacy. Students interact with children who participate in the program, caring for them and teaching the preschoolers in Bowman’s classroom, gaining firsthand experience in the process.

The second avenue allows students to shadow educators throughout the school system and focus on whatever subject or position they find interesting.

“They go into that classroom and do observations,” said Bowman. “They help that classroom teacher, similar to what you would take in college in an education introduction course. They can take that in high school to see if they like it.”

Bowman noted that through the education and training program, students can earn a credential for the Praxis Core, which measures academic skills essential for candidates preparing to teach. Rather than take the exam in college, students can pass the test in high school, jumpstarting their professional career.

Cosmetology instructor Canetha Bristol shared that while COVID-19 has impacted the program tremendously, the resources available at Etowah High allow her students a true introduction to the cosmetology world. Students gleam an understanding of their preferences, performing a plethora of tasks from hairstyling to skin care to nail care. Although students typically compete in national SkillsUSA competitions, following pandemic restrictions, Bristol now hosts contests within her classroom.

Through the cosmetology program, students can earn several credentials including Licensing in Cosmetology, Barbering, and Natural Hair Care.

“We have had many girls and guys be successful,” said Bristol. “I know that if I called names, you would know some of them. They’re hair stylists right here in Gadsden, Attalla and Albertville, even Birmingham. This is a great program. It helps you decide if you really want to do this.”

Agriscience instructor Skylar Ray discussed the vast spectrum of skills students learn through the program, from woodworking and welding to electrical and horticulture. Ray expressed that the agriscience program strives to instill the value of self-sufficiency in students, teaching them difference between securing a job and maintaining a job.

“Our students run one of the most successful, probably one of the most profitable greenhouses in the state, probably the Southeast,” said Ray. “They have worked with over a dozen clubs, schools and different organizations selling products they grow, from seed and plugs on into mature plants. They ship that all over the country and community. The city purchases a lot of it, and that’s on display throughout Attalla. We’ve been really blessed with the support we were shown, especially last year during COVID.”

Ray reflected on a call he received from Etowah High Principal Dr. Stephan Hall on a Sunday afternoon, where Hall told Ray that all greenhouse products must be sold by the next day due to the school’s imminent closure. Through the collaborative efforts of Ray, his students, fellow faculty and faithful Attalla businesses, the greenhouse successfully sold all of its products – worth $15,000 to $20,000 – in 24 hours.

“There is no way we could get that done without the help of our students,” said Ray. “The young men and women who take my class do an outstanding job. It’s unbelievable how hard they work. It carries into everyday life. I can’t tell you how proud I am at how far these young people have come in a short amount of time. I’m extremely pleased to be their AG teacher and pleased to know these young men and women.”

Major Marty Bishop leads the JROTC program at Etowah High, which earned a 97.5 percent accreditation within the past two years. Through its curriculum, drill ceremony, rifle marksmanship and archery, the program promotes ethics through the seven army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

“It takes ethics to get a job and keep a job,” said Bishop.

Etowah’s EMS family and consumer science pathway focuses on character education, food wellness, money management, budgeting, check writing and sewing. The program also studies different stages of development in childcare, including ways to handle emergencies and first aid for children. Housing, cleaning and interview skills are also taught within the program, which allows eighth graders the chance to participate.

Through their commitment, creativity and caring natures, Etowah High’s CTE instructors unite to provide students with priceless resources and endless opportunities for personal and professional growth. While its programs educate students on the technical skills required for their future workplaces, its initiatives nurture irreplaceable compassions within them that transform students from qualified employees into contributing members of society. Etowah’s donation to SHP exemplifies the character the school’s CTE program builds in its students each day, planting seeds of success throughout the community.

“Our communities are only as strong as our youth,” said Jones. “This is one way to invest in our youth.”

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