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Teens may take adult training

The School Board today will consider allowing high school students to take courses for adults at the Withlacoochee Technical Institute.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001


INVERNESS -- Supporters of technical education for years have told high school students that the jobs of the future won't necessarily need college educations. In fact, they say, some of the highest-paying jobs right out of school are in the technical and vocational fields.

Soon, Citrus high school students may have a better and cheaper way to get that kind of education.

Under a program recommended for School Board approval at today's meeting, high school students would be able to take courses at the Withlacoochee Technical Institute that now are just for adults.

After completing the program, the students could then apply the credits they've earned directly to high-level technical courses offered through Central Florida Community College.

The program would create a technical dual-enrollment program just like the academic dual enrollment with CFCC, which has been in place in the county's three high schools for years.

The dual-enrollment program was proposed by WTI director Steve Hand, who has worked on similar arrangements at other technical schools. He said he saw the agreement as a huge plus for the district's students and for the schools involved.

Students win because they can take the morechallenging post-secondary version of technical training programs at no cost, earning credits toward high-level certifications and degrees that adults have to pay for. That saves money, but it also saves time by allowing students to work toward their associate's degree before they leave high school.

For the schools, too, there is a bonus.

When a high school student takes vocational and technical courses at WTI now, the school they come from does not earn state money while the student isn't present at the high school. Under the dual-enrollment program, both WTI and the school the student comes from still earn state education dollars for that student, Hand said.

The extra dollars will then be split between WTI and the high schools sending the students.

The students seeking to enroll in WTI's post-secondary programs will have to meet certain criteria including being a junior or senior, carrying a 2.0 grade point average, being a student in good standing and passing the vocational basic skills test to be sure that the students are ready in language and math abilities to take the adult-level courses.

Once a student successfully completes the program, they would then earn a high school credit for an elective, or in some special cases an academic credit, plus they would earn post-secondary occupational credit.

Those post-secondary credits could then be applied to CFCC in certain programs which have been coordinated between the two schools. Currently the schools have approved agreements in the welding program. The schools are working to finalize other agreements in areas such as business, commercial foods, auto mechanics and electronics.

"It would be awfully nice if we could get 100 additional students who could take advantage of this, and I know we could accommodate those students," he said. "I don't know of any negative aspects of this."

The high school principals also like the proposal.

"It's an advantage to those kids planning on a vocational program," said Crystal River High School principal Craig Marlett. "It gives them another option we don't have right now, and it kind of whets their appetite toward that kind of curriculum."

For some students, that taste of technical training might show them a career option that hadn't occurred to them before. "They might decide, "Hey, I can do that," and that might be the incentive for them. They might say, "Hey, I'm this far along," and they decide to finish, Marlett said.

"I don't see any way to lose on this," said Gary Foltz, principal of Citrus High School.

Foltz, who had worked as a guidance counselor at WTI before getting the job at Citrus High, said he still considers the opportunities for students at WTI to be the county's "best-kept secret" and he hopes the new dual-enrollment program will open up new possibilities for interested students.

"The jobs are in the vocational area," Foltz said. "No matter what we try to do to make WTI an opportunity for everybody we have to do. We need to have these kinds of programs."

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