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Withlacoochee Technical Institute aiming to serve community

By PAULETTE LASH RITCHIE

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


Since I last visited Withlacoochee Technical Institute, the Inverness school has acquired a new director and assistant director. So I went by to take a look around and hear about plans for the future.

One school project that has been very successful is the extended day care program, said Jimmie Bryant, the assistant director. It is a valuable community service for working parents and Bryant said by the end of the term it will be expanded to all but one elementary school.

Parents who work can take their children to school early if they are enrolled in this program, and pick them up after they get out of work. The schools' schedules vary, but the extended care workers are at the schools from 6:30 to 9 in the mornings and, after school can keep the children until 6 p.m.

The children are provided with activities, time to do their homework and snacks. The employees have to take all state-required child care training. "It's been a real advantage and a real benefit to the community," Bryant said.

Bryant oversees the evening program at the school, and she told me about Adult Basic Education, which she referred to as A.B.E. This is for anyone in the community who would benefit from help with reading, math or language.

Adults at or below the eighth-grade level can take the FREE ABE. and learn better reading comprehension, have a better understanding of mathematics or gain more fluency in English, especially if English is a second language.

Bryant called ABE an opportunity for basic literacy and life skills for adults. Upon completion, the students receive certificates.

She said WTI would like to expand community education and job preparation classes. They would like to add more areas and increase "the fun stuff." She said community members can call her (726-2430) if they are interested in new class offerings. If the demand is there, the school will try to supply the class. "That's why we are here," she said.

Classes can be offered at sites besides the Inverness main campus, too. "We can offer it in different areas," she said. "We will work to find something."

The school is keeping up with the times and is looking at offering classes in Microsoft Word, Excel and Access. These, she said, can help people in their jobs or to get jobs They also are in the process of adding a computer repair class. "We have a big demand for computer repair," she said.

Right now, computer technology courses offered include Internet, Web Design and E-mail.

Some classes are offered during the day and others at night, but the school wants to accommodate the community. "If we have a demand for a class," Bryant said, "we can offer it day or evening."

A popular morning offering is the physical fitness gymnasium. It is open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It is $20 a month. All you have to do, Bryant said, is come in and sign up.

An important offering to many community members is the GED or General Education Diploma program. People who do not have a high school diploma can come in off the street to take the test at the school (call first, there is a testing schedule), but Bryant does not recommend taking the test without preparing for it first.

It costs $30 to take the five-section, seven-and-a-half-hour test, so it is to the test-taker's advantage to prepare for it. And the GED preparation classes are free.

Al Mitchell, one of the GED teachers, says enrollment is at 106 right now. When someone comes in, he administers a predictor test to indicate the areas that need work. He said preparation for the test could take two weeks to two years, depending on the individual and how far he or she went in school.

WTI is working to expand their relationship with community businesses through program advisory committees so the school will know what the demand is for skilled employees. Businesses, after all, would be the ones who hire the students, and the school aims to provide them with the workers they need.

Right now the school is looking at adding a course in turf grass, which could benefit the golf courses, one in medical record transcription and they are hoping to begin offering network wiring for A+ computer repair this year.

As Bryant and I walked through a hallway, we met Steve Hand, WTI's director. We talked about the involvement of local businesses in determining course offerings, the new courses they are planning or investigating, and the place the school has in the community.

Hand pointed out that if someone has his air-conditioner fixed, is cared for in the hospital, or is helped by a law enforcement officer, chances are they were helped by former WTI students.

"Most folks don't realize the impact this school has on the lives of the people of Citrus County," he said.

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