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Vo-tech likely to resurface as topic for WHSD

During a three-hour planning session on Sept. 25, members of the White Hall School Board discussed but took no action on potential vocational-technical programs for the district. The subject may surface again this year based on state programs and funding.

While students have voiced support for vo-tech programs, Superintendent Larry Smith said Monday, equipment for the programs can be expensive.

White Hall and the three other districts in Jefferson County currently participate in a vocational-technical program in Pine Bluff operated by the Arkansas River Educational Cooperative, Smith said, that requires transporting the students by bus to training sites.

Initially, welding and criminal justice are two areas of high interest, he said. Both offer employment possibilities to graduates.

The district also has voiced a desire in the past to move the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program to the high school campus. Students currently enrolled in the ROTC program are currently bused to facilities at the Pine Bluff Arsenal.

“They travel back and forth all day,” Smith said.

Army ROTC provides the majority of the Army’s officer corps, offering college scholarships based on the time of enrollment in the program. Newly graduated high school seniors can enter the program with a full four-year scholarship.

A number of corporate programs offer jobs to recent graduates who have obtained experience or certification while in high school, he added.

Some of those areas include auto technology, auto body repair, emergency medical technicians, child care and certified nursing assistants.

The private sector can offer partnerships to offset equipment costs, Smith noted, in hopes of recruiting workers with certain job skills.

The vocational programs have served to reduce dropout rates, increase interest in educational programs and help provide good jobs.

The state has encouraged some vocational programs through educational facilities programs, Smith noted, by picking up a portion of building costs.

If the White Hall district, for example, elects in the future to develop a fine arts auditorium, space currently used for band and choir “could be repositioned” for vo-tech and ROTC.

“It’s about to get moved from a back burner to the front burner,” Smith said, because of the schedule advanced by the state for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 years.

Funding will play an important role in any decisions made by the school board and those numbers should be ready for evaluation after the current session of the General Assembly, Smith observed.