VINEMONT, Ala. – Governor Kay Ivey has declared February Alabama State Career/Technical Education Month, and faculty, staff and students at the Cullman Area Technology Academy (CATA, called by its old name, “Career Center,” by many) celebrated the special emphasis given to their field by showcasing the school’s programs for prospective students and their families at an open house Thursday night.
CATA students visit middle schools through the year to talk to sixth and seventh graders about the school’s programs, and Principal Billy Troutman even spent the day Thursday taking eighth graders on a brief tour of each shop at the facility, but the open house gave prospective students and parents a chance to come back for extra time with the programs that interested them. Visitors had the chance to talk to instructors, see classrooms and equipment, and even get hands-on in a few places around the campus.
CATA specializes in Career and Technical Education (CTE) and offers 14 career/technical programs, including:
- Auto Collision Repair
- Auto Service Technology
- Culinary Arts
- Electrical Technology
- Engineering Technology
- Health Science
- Heating/Air Conditioning (HVAC)
- Mechatronics Technology
- Precision Machine Technology
CATA’s programs offer students the chance to get real experience in vocational fields that are in high demand and offer good job opportunities and a good living. Automotive students get ASE certifications and perform everything from oil changes to custom paint jobs. Health Science and Mechatronics students use state-of-the-art simulation equipment to replicate real-world work situations on their way to graduating as certified EMTs and nursing assistants. Culinary Arts students get ServSafe certifications. Construction students have taken on multiple building projects around the community, and manufacture items for sale to fund department projects. The list can go on and on; in whatever field they study, CATA students graduate from high school with skills and credentials that can catch employers’ attention and get them to work quickly.
Just within the last year, CATA students and faculty have made numerous achievements and contributions:
- Precision Machining students manufactured storage unit components for use on NASA’s International Space Station using equipment donated to the school by the space agency, and got a visit from world record-holding machinist Joe Hayden.
- Cosmetology students won first place in student competition at the 2019 Premier Birmingham Hair Show, and at the Torch Competition at Bevill State Community College.
- Through a partnership with Wallace State, the CATA Health Science program in 2019 graduated 10 students who, by the time they received their high school diplomas, were already certified to work both as nursing assistants and emergency medical technicians.
- Culinary Arts students took multiple honors, including first-place finishes, in several local cooking competitions.
- CATA’s rocketry team won at the University of North Alabama Rocketry Competition and traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent their school and the state of Alabama in the national Team America Rocketry Challenge.
- Thirty-seven students and five faculty members from multiple CATA programs traveled to Lee County to assist in tornado recovery, and to deliver over $7,000 in donations they raised.
- Thirteen students representing CATA’s welding, auto mechanics, building construction and cosmetology shops brought home a collection of gold, silver and bronze medals from competitions at the 2019 Northeast Alabama SkillsUSA Conference.
- Building Construction students were named SkillsUSA State Champions in the Community Service category for two years in a row, and have helped fund their own program through the sale of doghouses and storage buildings manufactured in-house from recycled materials.
- By offering certain ninth-grade classes for which students usually had to stay at their home schools to take, CATA was able to recruit a record 67 freshmen in 2019 who will be able to benefit from four years of technical training or move on in their junior or senior years to dual enrollment, Fast Track or other programs.
- Auto Collision Repair students displayed a truck at the 2020 World of Wheels auto show in Birmingham.
- Students representing the spectrum of CATA programs formed the school’s first SkillsUSA student council in November 2019.
Troutman told The Tribune, “The community just simply needs to know that our career tech center, Cullman Area Technology Academy, is here. We’re very excited about the opportunities that we’re giving students with our career tech programs. Cullman is a growing and changing town with opportunities that didn’t even exist a few years ago, and we’re trying to help students with those skills and attributes that’ll make them successful for today and even down the road. That’s the beauty of what we’re doing here at the career tech center.”
Recognizing individual students, teachers or departments can be difficult to do on the spur of the moment when there are so many things he could boast about, but Troutman did take a moment to talk about one particular group of students who represent the entirety of CATA’s programs, known as CATA Ambassadors.
Troutman said, “They’ve been a huge help as we’ve been out this year. We call it the Career Caravan, but we carry a couple of representatives from every shop and we go out to the middle schools for the sixth and seventh graders, and we set up a display, and the kids use that as a recruiting tool, and kind of a career day for the younger kids like that. They’ve been instrumental in doing that this year, as well.
“That’s something we started this year, and our ambassadors have really been a lot of fun, and they’ve really been a lot of help, and I’m excited about that program, too. We picked some good students from each shop, some good representatives and good students with leadership skills that are advocates of what we’re doing, and they’ve been a lot of fun.”
CATA’s ambassadors served as greeters and guides during the open house.
The “dream” of a new facility for career technical education
One thing that Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette hopes to see happen by way of the proposed 1-cent sales tax is the replacement of the current CATA campus by a whole new facility to be located on one of the system’s current high school campuses.
Barnette said, “I’m dreaming of a state-of-the-art, modern, attractive career tech center that will incorporate a high school on the top floor and a career tech center on the bottom floor.”
The new facility would allow regular academics and technical training to take place under the same roof, though students would still have the option to take their regular classes at their home schools.
Said Barnette, “My goal, right now, is to be a full functional high school up there, so if a young person wanted to come to that high school, they can. And that way, if they want to go down and take just one course, a tech thing, and then go back upstairs and take all their academics, they can. If in ninth grade, they want to try one, maybe second semester try a different tech thing- a different class- they could do that. But at the same time, if somebody’s at Holly Pond High School and they want to come for two hours a day, they can come for just two hours a day.
“But, you know, one of the things we want to get away from is that (stigma) of a ‘trade school;’ we want it to be something attractive that kids will want to come to. And we want to be able to offer the different programs that are going to provide kids opportunities to get jobs that are available in north Alabama now, and for five years from now and for 10 years from now. By building this with additional space, we can offer more programs than we offer now, and different programs.”
Looking at Career Technical Education differently
Career Technical Education has come a long way since the “trade school” days. With increasing needs for skilled labor in America’s workforce, and correspondingly increasing wages in those fields that rival income expectations from many four-year college degrees, career tech is attracting students with high standards and goals.
Something Health Science teacher Tracy Smith said in a previous interview about her medical students could apply to many at CATA: “These students are a prime example of changing the myth of career tech education. They’re in the top of their class, they’re taking advanced classes at their home school, they’re in extracurricular activities, they’re holding down jobs. And they’re here at career tech, taking advantage of every opportunity to get ahead for college and career.”
Learn more about CATA at http://cata.ccboe.org.
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