State, local reps visit Warren County Career Center
State Treasurer Stacy Garrity, State Sen. Scott Hutchinson, and State Rep. Kathy Rapp visited the Warren County Career Center for lunch and a tour of the facility.
Virtual Academy Services Assistant Principal Mike Cradduck conducted the tour, showing the visitors seven of the shops in the 12-program career center.
The tour also included stops at the STEM and STRIVE programs, both of which are housed in the building, but technically separate from the career center programming.
Cradduck said the career center has an enrollment of 327 students.
The tour started in welding, where the visitors saw a demonstration and received tokens of appreciation.
From there, the group saw the kitchen side of the culinary program — they had eaten lunch at the Hilltop Restaurant prior to the tour.
Bob Smith, TANF/Co-op coordinator, talked to Garrity about the opportunities career center students have in working with local employers before graduating.
From 10 to 12 students in co-ops just a few years ago, there are 76 now, he said.
“Partnering with local industry is amazing,” Smith said. “The word’s out, they’re calling us now. They’re realizing the benefit.”
He said career center students are working and making good money while they are still in school and many are securing jobs even before they graduate.
“That is going to incentivize even more kids to come here,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said.
Rapp thanked Smith for his efforts, saying the programs are helping some students’ mental health. “One thing that can really boost someone… is employment,” she said.
Throughout the tour, Garrity said the Warren County Career Center should be a model for other counties.
At one stop, Hutchinson introduced the visitors to some students, explaining that Garrity was checking out some of what Warren County has to offer. “Certainly, this place of learning is important.”
Stewart explained that the programs at the career center are growing. “Career and technology is where it’s at,” she said.
“We know,” Garrity agreed. “We’re pushing that.”
Garrity witnessed students dissecting pig and cow hearts in the medical assisting program and spoke with junior firefighters and emergency medical responders at protective services.
The career center program tour wrapped up at building construction occupations and machine technology.
At the STEM lab, Garrity tried out some of the virtual reality equipment.
The last stop in the building was the STRIVE program – a late, but worthwhile addition to the renovation, Stewart said.
STRIVE — Social interaction, Transition planning, Recreation and leisure, Independent living, Vocational learning, and Exploration and employment skills — is a program for students with certain disabilities that helps them transition from a school setting to the workforce or independent living.
Garrity saw STRIVE’s ‘living room,’ ‘hotel rooms,’ kitchen, laundry, and workshop spaces.
“This is wonderful,” she said. “What a great program.”
“All of these programs are fantastic,” she said.
“You should all be proud of this place,” Hutchinson said.
Stewart said bringing state officials to the district and the career center to get a first-hand look at what’s going on gives them a better basis for making education-based decisions.
“They’re not experts in what we do,” she said. Getting to “know what we’re doing” helps them make “good decisions that will impact kids.”
“There is such a need in all 67 counties for skilled labor,” Garrity said after the tour. “It’s very impressive. The kids are so involved. I think this center should be a model for all of the counties.”
Garrity is on tour promoting the PA 529 College and Career Savings Program.
“It’s not just for four-year programs,” Garrity said. “It’s a tremendous way for parents and families to save for education.”
The program has numerous tax advantages and savings in a 529 plan do not affect eligibility for state financial aid.
Garrity is staying in the county and will be joining City of Warren officials and others for a roundtable discussion and downtown walking tour.
“Some of the places we are look to stop at included Faded Floral, Rad Lands, Arbor House, Plaza, Allegheny Outfitters, and Innovault,” City Councilman John Wortman said.
The city police and fire stations are also on the tour agenda.