Parents, alumni fundraising to save district’s skilled trades program
By MARY ANN O’TOOLE HOLLEY
In November 2020, the Warren County R-3 Board of Education cut the construction education program in the Ag department by 50 percent, forcing the District to eliminate one certified education teacher, courses in Ag Construction 1 and 2, Ag Business Leadership and Communications and Advanced Animal Science, along with the entire Middle School agriculture curriculum.
AG, BUILDING TRADES CAREERS VITAL TO LOCAL ECONOMY
“For our rural community, careers in agriculture and building trades are vital to the local economy. Classes like welding, construction and business are greatly needed in our future workforce,” said Denise Dent, president of the Warrenton FFA Alumni and Supporters.
To save the program, a group of concerned parents brought to the District a proposal asking to reinstate both the teacher and the classes through private donations. The District agreed that if the volunteers raise $78,000 by April 1, the Warrenton High School and Black Hawk Middle School agricultural education programs would return to 100 percent.
SHOP CLASSES PREPARE STUDENTS FOR FUTURE
Chris Brunnert, business representative with the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, knows the value of shop programs in schools.
Brunnert found a key to luring students into the building trades by collaborating with the Troy Buchanan High School Shop program for HVAC training. During their typical shop class hours, the students worked with Brunnert and other journeyman to construct a home that will later be sold to help fund further school shop programs in the Troy Buchanan School District.
“Out in the rural areas, the farm kids already work hard and know how to get their hands dirty,” said Brunnert, who lives in the Lincoln County area. “I feel strongly that by giving these kids an opportunity to learn a trade in high school, they’ll be more likely and better prepared to join an apprenticeship program.”
The demand for workers in the skilled trades remains high, but the supply of workers trained for these occupations lags behind. Exacerbated by a limited awareness of the trades, this shortage requires an established pipeline of skilled workers, beginning with high school students participating in career and technical education (CTE) programs.
Despite significant barriers to growing and aligning skilled trades programs to meet the needs of students and the economy, there is evidence that skilled trades education yields positive benefits for students and is supported by popular public opinion.
GROW, DON’T REDUCE SHOP-RELATED PROGRAMS
Pat White, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council said he strongly supports the continuation of the Warrenton Ag program and is highly in favor of high school shop classes because they help students become familiar with equipment used in the trades as well as the basic tools of construction.
“Kids are very intelligent, but many can’t read a ruler to save their life. Those are basic needs to know in any of the trades we represent whether it’s pipefitting, cement masonry, electricians, bricklayers or others,” White said. “I can’t tell you how many people I know who took shop courses to get that feeling of whether working in the construction trades is something they want to do while continuing their education.”
White said it’s often driven into kids nowadays that they have to go to college to have a good career, but an advanced education isn’t for everyone, and it’s no guarantee of a good job.
“Building a bird house in shop, using a power saw and nails, is vital, quite frankly. I think we should be adding these programs to schools, not subtracting,” White said.
“Advertising an apprentice program, even with a parental push, isn’t enough,” he said. “But giving young men and women a taste of the trade, what they’ll learn and do, and telling them about the benefits, training and how much money they can make in the trade –– it sparks their interest.”
FINANCIAL SUPPORT NEEDED
Two recent reports commissioned by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC) and Jobs for the Future, Inc. (JFF) found more than 80 percent of registered voters support increased government funding for skilled trades classes in high school, but the funding needed to grow such programs in construction and manufacturing is severely lacking.
A survey conducted by NORC found voters, parents and high school students on both sides of the political aisle have a positive view of classes in the skilled trades:
- 71 percent support greater funding for these courses as a way to benefit large populations of students, including those in urban and rural areas, female students, and low- and middle-income students.
- 89 percent agree programs in the skilled trades help prepare students for related careers.
- A majority of parents are most concerned with their child’s prospects for making a good living (71 percent) and graduating college without debt (65 percent).
Trades programs unlock opportunities to family-sustaining careers while providing access to postsecondary education and training.
Evidence shows that students in trades programs achieve positive outcomes, including higher high school graduation rates compared to the average for all high school students nationally.
With the right resources and alignment, skilled trades education has the potential to meet the needs of both students and employers.
‘WE NEED TO PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES’
“We need to provide opportunities to expand and improve classes that support skilled trades education in high schools,” said Scott Hargis, a Warrenton parent and president of Machinists Local 777 automotive division. “Now more than ever, when the jobs of many of these workers identified as ‘essential,’ leaders in government, industry and education must collaborate to ensure that students gain the experience, education, and training they will need to secure quality jobs with family-sustaining wages in the future and meet the needs of the current labor market.
“These high school shop programs may not seem important when school boards are slashing budgets, but it’s important to emphasize that knowledge in the use of tools and materials to build or repair products and structures, leads to good jobs with strong potential for advancement and substantial careers,” he said.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Warrenton FFA Alumni and parents in the district are taking fundraising into their own hands to save the district’s skilled trades program and support the next generation of agriculture and trade leaders in Warren County.
Tax deductible donations can be mailed to WarrentonAgImpact, 39358 Pin Oak Church Road, Truxton, MO 63381. Make checks payable to WISE, noting “Ag Program” on memo line.
Donations can also be made online at https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=GVZZRS55EYEB4&Z3JncnB0=.
For more information visit Warrenton FFA Alumni and Supporters on Facebook at facebook.com/warrentonffaalumni.