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Hands learn trades

Students at the Dallas County Career Technical Center use their hands for more than just taking notes on loose-leaf paper.

They slip on leather gloves and slice through pieces of metal with a high-powered torch. They tighten nuts and bolts on car engines, and wear grease stains like badges of honor. They check pulse rates and make a crisp bed that would put most military personnel to shame. It is all part of a hands-on approach to learning job skills, that assistant director Jerolene Williams said gives students a leg-up after graduating high school.

“They need this training,” Williams said. “With the economy the way it is now, you need to have something you can fall back on.”

Despite a shrinking job market, students at the Career Technical Center felt confident in their future. Instead of spending all day with their noses in textbooks, the classroom is combined with hands-on lab instruction. They value the chance to learn job skills through a hands-on approach.

February is Career Technical Education Month.

Tiffany Rudolph is a senior at Southside High School. Every afternoon, she rides a yellow school bus to the Career Technical Center and participates in the Health Science Program. The program, like all others at the center, starts in the classroom during a student’s junior year.

The first year serves to expose the students to the basics of a particular career. Health Science students learn some anatomy, safety and basic skills such as taking a patient’s temperature.

The second year, the students work in the lab more. They practice with anatomical dummies and learn more advanced skills that will prepare them to enter a nursing program in college.

“Healthcare is the number one career for employment right now,” said instructor Jeannie Evans. “They’re begging for doctors and nurses right now.”

Rudolph said this is why she does not worry about finding a job after she completes a nursing program. Healthcare professionals will always be in demand, and Rudolph’s experience at the center gives her a head start.

“I know the medical field ain’t going nowhere,” Rudolph said.

The Career Technical Center gives its students options after high school.

Darell Elem, a senior at Southside High School, participates in the Welding Technology Program. In this program, students get hands-on experience performing different types of welding. While many students enter a college welding program, some enter the workforce right away.

“We can go get a job right out of high school making money welding,” Elem said. “When I go to college, I’ll already have experience, and it won’t be so hard.”

More women are interested in welding, too. Sharnika Brown, a senior at Southside High School, holds her own with a shop full of men.

“As a kid, I always loved fire,” Brown said. “It’s fun to me.”

That is what seems to draw all the students to their respective programs-genuine love for a job. Terrance Hartley developed a passion for cars when he was a little boy. He would sit for hours on end tinkering with his grandfather’s tools.

“I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get a little more advanced,” Hartley said.

So he jumped at the chance to join the Automotive Mechanics Program at the center. He spends his afternoons doing what he loves and learning valuable hands-on skills.

“You always learn better using your hands,” said instructor Kenneth Wilkerson.