Students are garnering industry skills, experience and certifications before they graduate high school.
by LINDSAY LOPP
The community of Terrell puts the sentiment, “It takes a village to raise a child,” into action. “We learn with and through others,” says Dr. Georgeanne Warnock, the superintendent of the Terrell Independent School District (TISD). “It’s a loving and supportive community. For a district our size, we have a lot of incredible opportunities for kids, and it’s exciting to be a part of that family’s journey from three years old into adulthood. We have an appreciation for the fact that all learning comes through relationships.”
The foundation for this approach begins beyond the classroom in the connections and conversations forged by Terrell’s community leaders. Each Tuesday morning, the superintendent, mayor, city manager, chamber of commerce, economic development corporation, Kaufman County representatives, and a few local business people gather to drink coffee and develop strategies to scale Terrell’s success.
“That’s unusual to see,” says Warnock. “This makes for the tightest partnership that I have ever experienced in my 25 years of working in public schools. We are on a quest to make sure that every child has opportunities, is uplifted, is spoken life into.”
Driven by this mission, the TISD established the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, which offers 11 workforce preparation pathways that allow students to gain skills, college credits and certifications in emerging and in-demand industries.
“Everything we talk about is with our eye turned toward career and college readiness, and we have so many options for students to be able to do that. Last year, we had a record high: 22% of our graduating class of 2022 had an industry certification when they left us,” says Warnock.
The current pathways include Animal Science, A/V Digital Communications, A/V Design and Multimedia, Business Management and Marketing, Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics, Welding, Automotive, Computer Science, Education and Training, Health Science and Legal Studies.
An Environment for Achievement
“One of our fastest growing pathways is in Animal Science. So, in that, students have the opportunity to learn about principles of agriculture, small animal management, livestock production, and then veterinary medicine. We’re working on having students be able to get technician certifications and veterinary medical assistant certifications,” continues Warnock
Terrell High School’s agricultural sciences team recently competed at the Kaufman County Livestock Show and Rodeo and won the Herdsman Award. “It’s the top award as a team. It’s about how they work together as a team, how they care for their animals, how responsive they are to leadership. It’s just all of those soft skills that you look for in employment,” says Warnock.
Many graduates from the TISD have gone on to have successful careers in various industries. Before he was an Academy Awardwinning actor, Jamie Foxx graduated from Terrell High School and played basketball and football for the school. Another Terrell graduate, Congressman Lance Gooden, represents Texas’ 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was first elected in 2018 and still resides in Terrell with his wife and children. Warnock also boasted about a long list of students.
“Lauren Rodgers is an amazing young woman. She won the state highest recognition for FFA and just won a grand champion at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which is like, the big enchilada there. We have the youngest student ever to complete a medical coding degree. She did it side by side with her mom,” she says. “I think about our female student who was finishing up in automotive and in welding and offered amazing opportunities through Ford to go and study auto mechanics with the desire to grow her in leadership.”
Fueling the Future
Both the automotive and welding pathways have strong ties to businesses in Terrell. Nucor Building Systems and Madix Inc. hire many graduates from TISD’s welding program.
“We have some welding students that have already been offered jobs coming out of high school, where they will be making over $70,000 a year graduating from high school and really shifting what’s possible for their family because of that certification opportunity,” says Warnock.
As for the automotive pathway, students graduate from this program with many essential industry skills. The students are learning their automotive basics and can also complete national industry-based certifications in suspension and steering. The technicians at Terrell’s Platinum Chevrolet dealership have been great mentors for this education.
“Typically, a young man, or woman for that matter, would start out on what I call a lube rack, doing basic oil changes, rotating tires, looking at filters and things like that. And if they want to stick with it, we encourage them to. You start out on the lube rack, and we’ll work you into being a helper in the shop for one of the main technicians and then you slowly start going out on your own in the automotive world fixing cars. And that process does take years, but it starts with a young person in school,” says Justin Rudd, general manager at the Platinum Chevrolet dealership in Terrell.
Not only do the students get handson learning experience, but they are also given opportunities to test the automotive knowledge they have acquired.
“We ended up going to the Texas Motor Speedway for a North Texas competition for several different school districts,” says Rudd.
Rudd described the competition as an unscored event where the students were tasked with finding “bugs” in the vehicle’s functionality and fixing the problem. Through the current curriculum and competitions, the TISD and Platinum Chevrolet are preparing students for successful careers in the automotive industry.
Currently, three TISD graduates work at the dealership.
“These guys are under-fulltime employment, raising their families. They’re contributing members of our team,” says Rudd.
“Romero Cabrera, he graduated probably 10 years ago. He’s going to make nearly $100,000 this year. You know, I don’t know how you put that on paper, but he’s making really good money. He’s made a heck of a living doing this.”
An Asset to Growing Industries
Like the welding and automotive pathways, the AV department has also attracted involvement from local industry partners.
“What’s amazing is that our students have started to be asked to produce videos like the county came and said, ‘Dr. Warnock, could the kids come? We are trying to get the word out about the volunteer fire departments and some other fire service areas in more remote parts of the county,’ and I said sure! So, our AV department went out and filmed it. They were so impressed and then the Terrell Police Department asked, ‘Could the AV kids come and film a video for us to promote?’ Now the commercials that they filmed are showing at our local movie theater here to advertise different opportunities in Terrell,” says Warnock.
Michael Arndt, an AV teacher at Terrell High School, reflected on how the program has grown since he first joined the staff. “Man, I remember the first day walking into that classroom before school started and we had maybe four cameras and I was in a small room, the computers were out of date, the network was not great and I’m thinking, how am I going to do this with 30 students and teach them how to create video content?”
Through community support and Arndt writing and receiving grants for the program, the TISD’s AV pathways have flourished. The program has acquired new equipment, computers, cameras and network storage for the student’s project.
“I’ve had students literally on our football field with our cameras taking photos and they’ve been approached by other photographers saying, ‘Hey, what are you shooting with? Let me see some of your work.’ And they have literally been on the spot hired to shoot things like the Dallas Turkey Trot, The BMW Marathon in December as a high school student and get paid $35 an hour to shoot these events. It’s just ridiculous! We have some really cool opportunities that have occurred by just being able to use the gear.”
Opportunities Unlike Any Other
Each of the TISD’S pathways boasts similar, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. For the last three years, Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics program students have designed and constructed their own robots to compete in the World’s Robotics Competition. This year, students from this pathway were able to participate in the first-ever Battle for Vegas at the BattleBots Arena in Las Vegas.
Warnock says, “Of the nine students that went, all juniors and seniors, none of them had ever flown on a plane before, most of them had never stayed in a hotel, so just the life opportunities that come along with getting to be a part of some of the programs we offer is just an amazing side benefit.”
Students enrolled in specific CTE pathways also have the opportunity to get a head start on their college education through dual credit enrollment programs at Trinity Valley Community College’s (TVCC) campus in Terrell. For example, students from the health sciences pathway can complete college courses and nursing certifications before they graduate.
“Our health science center is located right there. The TEDC was a key partner in us being able to relocate our health science center to Terrell. It was located in Kaufman, and Terrell EDC was instrumental. They donated a million dollars, helped us to work with the city to get that building and renovate it, and helped us relocate so that we could have a state-of-theart facility for our health science center,” says Kelley Townsend, the associate vice president of workforce education at Trinity Valley Community College.
“We have a partnership with them, and they have a health science academy at our health science center’s campus. They bus their students to that campus so that they can work through their CNA, their CCMA, and by going along that pathway, they are already ahead of the game so that they are already going into an RN program right after they graduate from high school.”
TVCC also has partnered programs with the TISD located at the high school campus. “With the TEDC’s help, funding wise, we were able to put a welding program out there at the high school.
“We have a really strong relationship between the TEDC and the TISD and the TVCC to keep those programs running and to keep these pathways from the high school into the community college and further if that’s what they want to do or whether they want to go into a four-year college or if they want to go straight into work and have those industry certifications and start making six digits. I wish I would have gone out of high school with that,” says Townsend
Answering Everyone’s Needs
When it comes to workforce preparation, Townsend says, “We run the gamut.”
Trinity Valley Community College has programs ranging from business management, welding, cosmetology, computer science, cyber security, automation, robotics, to many more educational avenues. With a seemingly endless number of programs, the school has acquired partners across numerous industries.
“We do have a really strong relationship with Nucor Building Systems, which is in Terrell. They are a part of our advising group. We do have advising groups for all of our programs,” says Townsend. She also named FXI, Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope, Walmart Distribution and Oncor as key partners and employers of Terrell’s TVCC graduates and TISD pathways students