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Career Tech director talks to Lions Club

VALLEY — Ken Sealy, the director of the Chambers County Career Technical Center, talked about an ongoing transformation at Monday’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club.

“It ain’t ‘vo tech’ anymore,” he said. “It’s not shop class where we are only making bluebird boxes. Our kids are getting jobs and making really good money right away. That’s why we have ‘career’ in our name. Somewhere along the way there became a perception that high school students went into either vocational education or were college bound. That needs to change.’

What used to be shop class is now construction class, and students get hands-on experience in planning and building a full-size building. They recently built a barn with a fence around it. There’s a purpose behind what’s being done.

“We make things we use,” Sealy explained. “The distinction between vocational education and career tech is important. Vocation is what you do and who you are. ‘Career’ is what you have.”

At the Chambers County Career Technical Center, courses such as carpentry and industrial sewing have been dropped in favor of teaching today’s student careers there’s great demand for. Machinists, for example, are in great demand right now in the east Alabama-west Georgia region.

“That’s a great field to be trained in,” Sealy said. “They tell us that 250 machinists are needed in this area right now.”

Today’s students are realizing the opportunities available through career tech and are responding to it. When Sealy became director of the CTC in 2011, approximately 200 students were enrolled. That number has since jumped to around 550.

“We serve seven schools,” Sealy said. “That includes Valley, Lanett and LaFayette high schools, the middle schools in Valley, Lanett and LaFayette along with Five Points Junior High. Career tech is for people who want to work and who have a purpose for going to school. We have both practicality and reality in our school.”

There’s an agriculture program that’s pretty popular right now. Students can work in a greenhouse and with such animals as pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits and fish.

“Agriculture is a great and wonderful program, but it’s not the only thing we do,” Sealy said. “We have an engineering program that does some cool things. They build cars and race them. Our race team has gone to national championships five years in a row. We complete in Birmingham and Huntsville and out of state in such places as Miami, Tampa and New York state. We were one of the first schools in the state to do this. It’s a tribute to our kids what they have accomplished.”

Sealy added jokingly that Huntsville with all its NASA professionals, is a bit envious of the success Chambers County has had in electric car racing over the past five years.

There’s also a focus on manufacturing.

“We have a splendid machine shop,” Sealy said, kidding that he sometimes calls the school Chambers County A&M for its strong agriculture and manufacturing offerings.

Programs that teach students how to machine items from metal are popular.

“Students in these programs are getting jobs right away, and these are good-paying jobs,” he said. “Our automotive program is doing very well. We also have information technology, graphic arts, culinary arts, teacher education, and one program that’s always been popular — cosmetology.

Sealy encouraged parents to consider the financial benefits of career tech.

“You can spend $5,000 at a major university to find out what they don’t want to do, or spend a year with us and find out what they want to do,” he said.