The first-year students are competing against one another, while the second-year students assess them using a guided score sheet. The ultimate goal is to compete against other students from area trade schools and to advance to state and national competitions, affiliated with SkillsUSA.
This is just one of the 15 programs offered at the Lewis & Clark Career Center in the City of St. Charles School District, but open to students from throughout St. Charles County.
“We serve surrounding districts, like Wentzville, Fort Zumwalt, Francis Howell and Orchard Farms, as well as parochial high schools and home-schooled students in the area,” explained assistant director Chris Jarus. “For students outside of our district, the program is tuition-based.”
With a strong sense of looking forward to career choices and options, the program is 47 years strong. Jarus, with over 20 years of education experience, knows that this trades-based opportunity is both unique and life-changing.
Normal enrollment is approximately 430 students a year, attending a 2.5-hour morning or afternoon. session away from their traditional high schools. Earning three credits toward graduation, students also earn certification of completion.
Jarus said the goal of the program is to provide a successful environment by selecting students prepared for the rigors of the hands-on program. Most of the programs take two years to complete. The goal is for the student to stay with a program and earn certification that, in turn, will give them a step up if they choose to pursue that career after graduating from their home school.
Responding to community needs under the guidance of industry leaders and advisory committees made up of local professionals in these trades, the center is constantly changing and adapting its programs, like including a solar component in their heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) program, as well as in their electrical and building carpentry trades.
One of the most unique aspects of the program is that students in many of the trade programs can assist in building a house each year for true hands-on experience. When completed, the homes are sold for approximately $300,000.
Classes are small, generally 17 to 18 students per session, and approximately 70 percent of enrollees are male. Many of the females on campus are found in the traditional programs, like health occupations, early childhood careers and applied retail and business skills. But not all.
Blattner is experiencing a first this year, with two female students in his masonry class. Alissa Wagner is attending in the morning session and Shawna Maxson is attending in the afternoon.
“It is one of the hardest skilled trades out there, and these girls work just as hard as the boys. I’m very proud of them,” Blattner said.
Also unique to Lewis & Clark is a tuition-free machining program for adults offered through the MoManufacturingWINs grant in partnership with State Technical College in Linn, Missouri. It’s a program that seeks to address the skilled labor deficit.
Hoping to bring youth into skilled labor jobs like machining, Lewis & Clark is in the beginning stages of a partnership with Toyota Bodine to introduce machining in its secondary classes and continue into higher education for certification or associate degree training. Skilled laborers would be absorbed into the Toyota Bodine workforce as well as in places like Boeing and other manufacturing companies.
While teaching a skill is the center’s primary focus, Blattner believes it is only a piece of what students learn.
“I teach leadership and the value of hard work,” he said. “I focus on employability, so whether the students become brick layers, go to the military, or decide college is for them, they will take what they learn in my program and be able to apply it to life. I want them to be leaders and strong members of society.”