Eyes focused on future

AIKEN --- Classes at the Aiken County Career and Technology Center are in high demand next year, with 467 students signed up, a 35.4 percent increase from this year.

New programs such as criminal justice and nail technology, along with increasing demand for technically skilled workers, have made the programs desirable among high school students.

When Bradford Wilson began teaching the criminal justice course two years ago, he hoped the program would have at least 50 students by its 10th anniversary. At least 30 students are already on the waiting list to get into next year's classes.

"It's taken off more than I could ever imagine," Mr. Wilson said. "Every day I hear from principals where kids are talking about how cool the class is and how much they enjoy being here."

Growing demand for classes has put the school in a difficult position. It has to turn away students because it doesn't have enough facilities or instructors.

The criminal justice class met in a mobile classroom the first year. After seeing the need for more space, the industrial systems program gave up one of its classrooms so students could do more hands-on work in criminal justice.

Last week Pat O'Neill, the center's director, presented the Aiken County School Board with information on just how popular programs have become. Welding has topped out at 36 or 37 students for the past five years but can't take any more students because of space limitations. The nail technology class, part of cosmetology, already has 44 applications for its first semester.

The programs are popular in part because students know they'll have a place in the work force when leaving school, Assistant Principal Michael Orsini said.

"You get all the traditional English and math here, but you won't get the real-world experience in a traditional high school setting," he said.

Programs also offer school-to-work, which allows students to earn class credit while they're working in the community.

This past year, senior Nate Muszall headed to Savannah River Site to perform minor repairs as part of his computer networking class.

"They (instructors) tell you what to expect here. No other school's going to trust kids to handle 120 volts of electricity to tear down and rebuild a computer."

Mr. Muszall said he also enjoyed having the respect of instructors in the classroom.

Finding goal-oriented students like Mr. Muszall isn't hard. It's trying to figure out which ones to turn away.

Students must keep at least a C average at their home school, have good attendance and a clean discipline record before being considered. An essay and 15-minute interview with the instructor are also required.

"You have to be sharp to get in," Mr. Wilson said. "You'll know if they're ready though. You can tell by reading their essay if they're going to make it through the program.

Once they're in a study area, students must keep a B average.

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.

CAREER AND TECHNOLOGY CENTER

PROGRAM'06-07
ENROLLMENT
'07-08
ENROLLMENT
'08-09
APPLICATIONS
Agricultural education211018
Automotive303337
Computer aided drafting322335
Computer networking252022
Construction323029
Cosmetology453754
Criminal justice143374
Electricity221817
Health science314041
Industrial systems292517
Machine tool141812
Welding363627

Source: Aiken County Career and Technology Center


2008-09 NEW APPLICATIONS

Agriculture......18

Automotive.......37

Building construction......29

Computer assisted design.........35

Computer networking........22

Cosmetology........54

Criminal justice..........74

Electricity.........17

Health science.........41

Industrial systems..........17

Machine tool.........12

Nail technology..........44

Welding technology........27

Source: Aiken County Career and Technology Center