Not many people know my career roots are in healthcare. I’ve worked in a psychiatric hospital, a brain injury rehabilitation center and a local long- term care facility. I loved them all. My reason to be is people!
But then, like many women, my career goals shifted when I had children. I left the healthcare field to focus on my children and home. But then I saw an ad for a part-time job that changed my life.
It was 1994 and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act was a national effort to develop a system to help students transition from K-12 education to the workforce. The act focused on broadening educational and career opportunities by encouraging and supporting state and local partnerships between businesses and educational institutions.
The Superintendents and Assistant Superintendents of each of the six area school districts within Adams County came together to discuss ways of providing career and technical education, without a formal vo-tech school. They formed an alliance and each district agreed that the first course offering would be…Allied Health.
With my background in healthcare, I was hired as the first Executive Director to manage the process. It was one of the best experiences of my life. And it was the perfect bridge into my current career in economic development.
Fast forward 25 years, and here’s a snapshot of the current Adams County Tech Prep consortium (Bermudian Springs, Conewago Valley, Fairfield Area, Gettysburg Area and Littlestown Area School Districts). The consortium offers career and technical education (CTE) to juniors and seniors in the following programs:
- Allied Health
- Building Trades
- Computer Networking
- Culinary Arts
- Diesel Mechanics
- Early Learning
- Law Enforcement
The programs are located on the campus of the Gettysburg Area High School—some are in the Tech Prep building, some are in the HS.
The Allied Health and Law Enforcement programs offer College in the High School credits through the Harrisburg Area Community College. Students participate in their normal Tech Prep classes and earn college credit at the same time.
Graduates may also be eligible for college credits through a statewide articulation program called Student Occupationally and Academically Ready (SOAR). These credits are offered at many community colleges and some universities across the state. Credits vary by program.
All programs offer at least one industry-recognized credential. Students can earn credentials such as Serve-Safe, PA Inspection License, OSHA, and A+/Net+ to name a few.
And all students take the nationwide NOCTI exam related to their program of study. The NOCTI measures the students’ knowledge with a 150-200 question test and measures their skill with a 3-4 hour performance test.
Eligible seniors may even participate in a cooperative education program to finish their training with a local employer. Students receive paychecks while training and most positions lead to full-time employment upon graduation.
“Helping prepare tomorrow’s workforce is our main job,” says Shawn Eckenrode, Director of Career and Technical Education, Adams County Tech Prep. “Schools like ours were established for that specific purpose.”
Eckenrode says the development of new programs stems from the PA High Priority Occupations List, published annually by the Department of Labor and Industry and based on high-demand, high-skill and high-wage workforce needs.
Each one of our program instructors has an Occupational Advisory Committee (OAC) comprised of representatives of local business and industry, postsecondary schools, civic organizations, the workforce development board (SCPa Works), and parents and students. These committees meet at least twice a year.
“Ours is a school of choice,” says Eckenrode. “Students don’t have to come here…they choose to. We have an awesome mix of students who are college-bound and students who just want to go to work after graduation. We help students get ready for college and we help students who might otherwise not be in school if they could not have chosen one of our programs.”
It is with great pride and joy that I personally reflect on the early beginnings, incredible growth, and bright future of Adams County Tech Prep.