WGH program puts kids on path to job readiness

WGH?program puts kids on path to job readiness

WARREN — The sound can be deafening inside Warren G. Harding High School’s career and technical classrooms.

Students bang away with hammers on pieces of metal to test the strength of the welds they made. Each strike produces a loud clang, then another, then another until the weld surrenders.

Outside a garage door, hammer strikes make another sound — this one the familiar pounding of nails into wood by students erecting a shed.

Don’t call them shop classes anymore because they aren’t. These classes are readying students for careers and for college.

“This really has been a big initiative for the school district. The superintendent is behind it, the school board, they really want students college and career ready,” said Regina Teutsch, executive director of curriculum and instruction for Warren City Schools.

“It’s giving children a skill set, or providing them with the opportunity to get a skill set. They can use that to work to go to college; they can use it in an apprenticeship or go on to college, whatever the path may be,” Teutsch said.

The classes are led by career and technical education teacher Zach Cowher, who sort of resurrected the program that had really been inactive since former shop teacher George Lazar retired after the 2008-09 school year.

Cowher came in wanting to dispel any notion of the college-or-bust attitude, which is something he said he experienced.

“Years ago when I was in high school, I was told you either went to college or didn’t amount to anything, which isn’t even close to true,” he said.

The program has two courses: welding and carpentry. Welding has four levels and carpentry, two, that accommodate the skill levels of the students. The classes run for a semester. Following a foundation course that lets the students sort out their interest — whether they want to move on — they take OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) 10, a nationally recognized safety course.

A waiting list of about 100 students exists for the career and technical program, which has Cowher with ideas to expand.

New equipment was brought in for both in the past few years, but the welding side is just a bit more advanced in terms of technology and equipment. Some machines in the woodshop were upgraded, but more work is needed.

A $20,000 grant from the Arconic Foundation, the charitable giving arm of Arconic — a maker of aluminum, titanium and nickel parts for planes, cars and electronics that has a plant in Weathersfield — paid for the equipment upgrades in the welding program.

It bought four new welders that perform three types of welding — stick, tig and mig — and four new exhaust systems.

Ajax Tocco Magnethermic in Warren, which designs and makes heating and melting equipment for various industries, provides the raw steel used in the program in gauges that range from 1/16 of an inch to a quarter inch thick, said Chris Kellar, department supervisor.

It was Kellar’s son, Evan, who is in the class who came to Kellar with the problem of struggling to find material with which to work.

“We’re all extremely happy to see this kind of thing come back into the schools so we were more than happy to help out,” said Kellar.

Said Cowher, “That company is getting to be more involved with us … they are sending a representative to talk with the kids about career paths, what opportunities are available to them in this field.”

Also, there have been discussions about taking the students to tour the facility on Overland Avenue NE.

These types of interactions with manufacturers are essential for the career and technical program to be fluid and on the edge of skill and industry needs. It also allows the students to learn workplace professionalism and can be a viable employee pipeline for the local industry.

“If kids can walk out of Warren G. Harding with this skill set, they’ll have employment opportunities readily available. That’s huge for our kids,” said Jennifer Cambareri, supervisor of school improvement at the high school.