When he became a welder in 2002, Aaron Clark didn’t dream he’d spend his days in a high school classroom. Yet these days he spends four hours, five days a week at Putnam County High School.
“I was behind a hood, so getting into this was a whole different ballgame,” Clark said of becoming a welding technology instructor. “Then when they threw a high school in, it became another world.”
Clark worked in a small fabrication shop, then an industrial setting for eight years before he became an adult-education instructor at Southern Crescent Technical College. He now teaches at Central Georgia Technical College, which is partnering with Putnam County High School to offer dual-enrollment classes. He said the students at CGTC and PCHS learn the same curriculum, but high school students have “different personalities.”
Dual-enrollment courses, in which students can earn advanced education credits while still in high school, are on the rise at PCHS as it has become a leader of schools across the state in Georgia’s Career Pathway method of education. Students earn technical certificates in courses, such as the one Clark teaches, while in high school, enabling them to be eligible for a job as soon as they graduate, or to continue their studies in that field.
College-bound students also benefit from dual enrollment because they earn credit in college core academic courses, eliminating the cost of paying a college for them. Clark said the dual-enrollment program “is great, because it gives (the students) options.”
Because he’s college-bound, Glenn Brooks doesn’t seem to fit the stereotype of a welding student; yet the PCHS junior said he “thought it was awesome” when he first heard of it.
“I have learned a lot. It feels like we are playing around, but we are learning,” Glenn said, noting he currently has earned 14 technical college credits, and two certificates, in the course; he should have 18 credits by the end of this school year.
“So next year, I will be able to get all the certificates – and it’s all free,” he said, explaining his plans are to pursue another course of study in college, but he may work as a welder while in school, or he may use the certification some other time in his life.
“This is a stepping stone to making a livable wage while you are pursuing a next adventure,” Clark said. “If they want to be welders, then I encourage that. But I also encourage them to continue their education so they will always have options, because you never know what’s going to happen in life.”
PCHS began offering welding in the 2013/2014 school year. Clark said there were 15-16 students enrolled in four different classes, who earned 13-15 college credit hours total. This year, there are 24 students and they are earning 15 college credit hours each.
In their first year, students can earn Basic Shielded Metal Arc Welder and Gas Metal Arc Welder certificates; in the second year they can earn Vertical Shielded Metal Arc Welder and Advanced Shielded Metal Arc Welder certificates.
“So they can go pretty much anywhere in the country and walk into big industry and have a job,” Clark said, noting that a 16-year-old from PCHS last year received a job offer after earning the first two certificates. “Everybody that passes my class can weld better than most people in the state.”
Clark said two PCHS students, who worked summer jobs welding, came back and told him that supervisors on the job asked the students to demonstrate their method, and told them they were the best welders in the shop.
“That’s what I and CGTC expect,” Clark said. “We put out quality welders; I’m very proud to say that. I hold them to higher standards. If you expect mediocrity, that’s what you get, and that wouldn’t say much for CGTC or PCHS.”
Clark said the students learn by actually doing the work.
“In welding, all the textbook knowledge means nothing if your hands can’t do the work,” he said. “So by the third day in my class, we are burning rods.”
Having prior experience in welding before being in Clark’s class, senior Brandon Williams said, “I thought I knew a lot about welding.”
“But Mr. Clark taught me there’s a lot I didn’t know, and I discovered I had some old habits that were not right,” he added.
Brandon said Clark’s class helped him learn welding is the career he wants to pursue.
“Mr. Clark changed my whole way of thinking about it,” he said. “I’m going to CGTC next year to continue it, and since I already have some credits, I will finish early. You can’t beat that.”