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MCISD welding program offers career options

20121022 MCISD WELDING Options Academy AF  0004Wilfredo Bara, 17, and Troy Vasquez, 17, used teamwork during their afternoon welding class on Oct. 22. Welding Instructor Rolando Gonzalez said these basic skills will prep them for welding gas pipelines in oil fields. Progress Times photo by Andrielle FigueroaMISSION — Sixteen seniors at the Mission Consolidated Independent School District (MCISD) have joined a new welding program offered in partnership with South Texas College’s (STC) School to Career Academy and Dual Enrollment initiative (SCADE).

The welding program, which started in June, offers a basic welding certification that could lead to a job as an entry-level welder with salaries as high as $50,000 annually.

Over the summer, students attended classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for 12 weeks, which gave them 12 college hours. The Dual Enrollment aspect allows these seniors to receive college credit, as well as elective credit at the high school they attend.

Instructor Rolando Gonzalez said he has seniors from Mission High School, Veterans Memorial High School and Mission Options Academy. He explained though the work is vigorous, his students will graduate with professional certifications.

“This is a full year program, and they will finish in the spring,” Gonzalez said. “After they graduate they will have a certification, and the students can choose to attend STC for one more year and get an associate’s degree.”

The welding instructor explained only seniors are offered the opportunity with the Dual Enrollment program because of the college credits offered. Maturity, he added, is a necessity when dealing with safety.

“I have 13 out of 16 students who have passed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certifications,” he said. “Companies want to hire employees who have that certification.”

The seniors also had the chance to meet current STC students at a welding expo in San Benito where they shared experiences. Gonzalez said college students are paying $7,000-$9,000 in tuition fees for a welding certification, while his seniors are receiving their education for free.

“We have equipment and materials that are provided by the State of Texas in part with free public education,” Gonzalez said. “We are the biggest group running this program, and now there are 10-12 schools in other districts who want to jump on.”

Gonzalez said the majority of his classroom is filled with English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students. He said he speaks to his students in Spanish, but all of the work is in English.

“I speak to the students in Spanish, but I let them figure out the blueprints on their own,” Gonzalez said. “When they are given their final exams, each student will receive a blueprint and have to follow the directions given.”

Gonzalez, who has 29 years of welding experience, said once a company hires these students they would need the skills to study a blueprint and understand the task. He said he shows the students every step in the welding process, but after the basics are taught all he will provide is a blueprint.

There is a great need for welders; Gonzalez said the majority of the opportunity is in North Texas and bordering states. The students in the classroom believe that the change is a risk they are willing to take.

“The program is great, I hope to work at a factory in Alice,” student Wilfredo Bara said.

When asked if leaving Mission would be difficult, Bara said he wanted the job and his family would support any move he made.

Gonzalez said much of the program’s success was due to the work of the MCISD Director for Career and Technology Education Sergio Peña.

“(Peña) has been very supportive and getting what the kids need,” Gonzalez said. “He has been working on this for two years now.”

The welding program is one of many professional certification programs MCISD is offering through STC. Other programs include: multi-media specialist, certified nurse assistant, phlebotomy technician, monitor tech and computer and Internet specialist.

Students can also obtain industry-based certification in cosmetology, Autodesk AutoCAD, Adobe-Photoshop-ACE, bookkeeping fundamentals and MOS Word/Power Point/Excel/Access industry-based certifications.

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