COLUMBIA CITY — Columbia City High School continues to expand its definition of student success with two new vocational programs that have proven beneficial for students as well as the community.

The new school year saw the launch of the welding and CNA programs at CCHS through partnerships with Ivy Tech Community College and Miller’s Merry Manor, respectively. Not only did the interested students receive lessons on the important job skills, but they had the time to put those skills to real-life use.

The students participating in those programs, 11 in welding and eight in CNA, have excelled. According to CCHS principal Jennifer Reiff, these students have received high scores and now possess professional certifications that will give them an advantage in many jobs from their selected industries.

“These kids have been so excited and so thrilled to be presented with these opportunities,” Reiff said. For some students, this opportunity is their ability to graduate on time which is tremendous and they’ve got a certification in something they want to do.”

Additionally, these certifications are in high demand locally, especially in welding. Reiff noted that the local manufacturing industry is “screaming” for trained welders as the majority of their workforce retires and there aren’t as many younger people pursuing that type of career. Health science jobs are also plentiful in a field that continues to face the call to care for an aging populations.

These two programs are a small section of the big-picture transformation taking place at CCHS. The school is in the process of establishing six different “academies,” for students to explore. The freshman academy is already underway with the current ninth grade class and next year; those students will be the first class to utilize the sophomore academy. During these first two years, students will have the chance to consider all of the options available to them and decide which paths work best for them.

Junior and senior students will take that exploration a step further by selecting one of three different academies at CCHS, or seeing what Eagle Tech Academy has to offer them instead. Networking with businesses related to the academies will also prove to be mutually beneficial as students look for work and the businesses look for skilled employees.

“Once every quarter I meet with area businesses to work with them and see how we can bring real-world opportunities to students or my students to them,” Reiff said.

Regardless of a student’s choice, Reiff hopes that the diploma they receive on graduation day is more than just a piece of paper.

“The goal is to have these kids graduate with a diploma and something else,” Reiff said. “Whether that be college credits, whether that be certifications or skills that make them more marketable. I want every kid to be at the top of that job pool list.”

Reiff predicts that the school’s current CTE and vocational programs will only grow as the class of 2023, currently eighth graders, become the first class to operate under the new graduation pathways laid out by the Indiana Department of Education. The new pathways will offer alternative routes to graduation besides passing a standardized test, the state’s attempt to recognize that the college-going mentality they had long touted does not fit all students.

The Whitley Works program and Whitley County Economic Development Corporation partnered in coordinating the welding program, and other community organizations provided funding for the students.

The Don Wood Family Estate provided generous scholarships for several of the students, and some students received support from the County Economic Development Income Tax, and training grant dollars from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

“The partnership between the Whitley Works program, the EDC, Ivy Tech and the Don Wood Family Estate has provided great opportunities for our students. These students were able to earn college credits by completing the Ivy Tech welding course while also earning their OSHA 10 and AWS Certifications in MIG welding,” said Lori Heuer, director of the Whitley Works program.

The Whitley Works program was put into place in 2017 by WCCS, as a partnership opportunity for all three school systems, WCCS, Smith-Green Community Schools and Whitko Community Schools, to better connect students with local employers to provide internships, training opportunities and employment opportunities.

“On behalf of the Wood Family, I am proud to support students having a strong interest the manufacturing trades, and welding skills are in very high demand in our region. This is a good way for our family to make a difference in our community,” John Wood said, on behalf of the Don Wood Family Estate.

Thanks to a grant from the Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center through Purdue University, the students also had the opportunity to visit several businesses to learn more about local career options. The students visited Plumbers/Steamfitters Local 166, American Landmaster, Reelcraft Industries and Novae Corporation.

Through hands-on training, and tours of local companies, students were able to experience what it would be like to work as a welder in Whitley County, not just learn about it.

“This program gave me a great perspective on the trade of welding Jared Buckles, CCHS student, said. “It takes a lot of practice and patience to gain the skills of a professional welder. I enjoyed this program because it taught me new things and gave me a good idea as to what my future would be like if I decide to pursue a career as a welder. I highly recommend this class to anyone interested in the trade.”

“Welding is one of the most sought-after skills in our region’s job market. The partnership between Columbia City High School, the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation, and Ivy Tech Community College made it possible for participants to earn three credit hours at Ivy Tech and also attain an American Welding Society certification. It was an added plus that the students did a great job and enjoyed the class,” Scott Wilson, Ivy Tech Workforce Development consultant, said.

“When we have strong partnerships in the community, everyone wins. These students gained valuable skills and relationships were built between our local students and employers,” said EDC Workforce and Community Development Director Riley Hollenbaugh.