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Marion County Area Technology Center also serves Washington County students

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By Geoff Hamill

It’s located across the county line, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a benefit to Washington County.

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The Marion County Area Technology Center (MCATC) serves students from Washington County, as well as Marion County, and provides training to get the young people of both counties ready for their careers.

Principal Laura Arnold, a Washington County resident, said the center is on the property of the Marion County School District, but is operated by state agencies.

“We are a state-operated center, and our programs and most instructors are state-funded positions,” Arnold said. “We work for the office of Career and Technical Education, which is under the Workforce Development Cabinet.”

The MCATC is one of 54 tech centers in Kentucky, and was opened in 1966. Arnold said the center is now in the midst of a renovation that is on schedule to be completed later this year. Arnold said the renovations came about when the Marion County School District had bonding capacity, but was unable to pass the recallable nickel tax, which successfully passed in Washington County.

“A couple of years ago, Marion County tried to get the recallable nickel tax like Washington County has, but it failed. The school district has about $6 million in bonding potential, and they were looking to see which building they could renovate,” Arnold said. “They looked at several issues, but economic development and business and industry in the county said this facility needs to be a priority because technical training is so important to community development. We worked with the board of education, and they decided that this facility was what needed renovated. So Washington County students are going to get to come to a newly renovated facility, but at no cost to Washington County.”

With the MCATC being located in Lebanon, Arnold said some people might think it’s hard to keep a connection between the two counties, but she added that her argument is simply for the kids.

“It doesn’t matter where the kids are getting the courses, it’s (MCATC) still helping the Washington County kids,” Arnold said.

This year, the MCATC is serving about 124 Washington County students, according to Arnold. She said that number was around 178 last year. The change came when Marion County went to a trimester school year, bringing about a difference in school calendars for the two counties. In the 2010-11 school year, Washington County will also go to a trimester schedule, and that will hopefully increase the numbers again for Washington County students, Arnold said. Numbers had been around 175 on average for the past two years, but dipped this year due to the schedule changes.

In the past, both counties have paid a portion of the salary to a career advisor, who worked with students at the center. That advisor would counsel students on career paths, helping them find courses that interested them, and then direct them to the next steps of education for a career in which they might be interested, Arnold explained.

In the past, the Marion and Washington school districts each funded 25 percent of the salary for the advisor, and the rest was provided by federal funding. However, Arnold said the Washington County district recently decided to not fund the position any longer, and will now provide a staff member from Washington County High School who will work with Washington County students on their career paths.

“This is the first time since the agreement that they have declined to fund the position,” Arnold said. “They are still going to give 25 percent of a person’s time to help the MCATC students, but through the use of their own counselor. When the advisor position was created, it was an advisor at the tech center campus. Now, Mr. Terrell (Washington County High School Principal Paul Terrell) will be the person’s supervisor, and they will come to the tech center for so many hours per week, then go back to Washington County.”

Arnold said there are seven programs offered currently at the MCATC, and they include automotive technology, information technology, health sciences, industrial maintenance, machine tool technology, welding and construction. Students from both counties take classes in each field, and they hope to have even more options in the near future. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) classes are one addition Arnold wants to see at the center as part of the health sciences program.

“We’re looking to expand our health sciences and offer an EMT program utilizing some community funds,” she said. “This would be an excellent expansion because to be an EMT, a person must have a high school diploma and be 18 years old. We’ll put seniors in the program, and they will finish their course work, then after they get their diploma, they can take the test to be an EMT right out of high school. Then, if they’re interested, they could take the next step to become a paramedic, and maybe take those classes at a community or technical college.”

Arnold knows well about the benefits of students going on to technical colleges, as well as other area schools. She said the MCATC is a partner with both the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) which just opened a new location in Springfield this week. Also, the MCATC works hand-in-hand with St. Catharine College.

“The new KCTCS in Springfield will offer electricity, industrial maintenance and machine tool, so two of the three main programs we offer at a secondary end will be offered there,” Arnold said. “We teach a very similar curriculum to the KCTCS. We have a list of classes students can take while in high school here free of charge, and they’re getting dual credit for them at the KCTCS. That’s going to be really important when we try to encourage students to live and work in Springfield.”

Arnold added that her center partners with St. Catharine College, and the college offers articulated credit, which means once a student takes a required amount of hours at the college, they can gain additional credit for work they did at the MCATC.

Many young people benefit from the tech center, but it’s also there to help the workforces of both Marion and Washington counties. Arnold said her school’s staff has worked with industrial operations in both counties for training needed for specific jobs.

“For probably four or five years now, my welding instructor did welding training for Toyotomi employees. They would come here for training. Now, we also provide training for some Lebanon industries,” Arnold said. “The general manager of TG Kentucky told this community that if it didn’t start educating students on how to work with robots and introduce robotics, we were not going to have trained people for the workforce. I worked with the community the first year I was here, and we got a $375,000 grant to purchase robots and other equipment needed to teach the curriculum the community was asking for.”

Washington County Economic Development Director Hal Goode works closely with Arnold and the MCATC, and he said the center is a great benefit to Washington Countians.

“There’s no question that in our environment, post-secondary education is a must. What Laura Arnold and her group are doing at the MCATC is preparing our students to go into post-secondary. Also, we have companies like Toyotomi that have utilized that facility for some of their training,” Goode said. “In tool and die, you can see students who have attended the MCATC, and then go on to the ECTC for tool and die, fabrication and other areas. So the preparation, and having them ready to go on into the workforce, then to post-secondary education, from a student standpoint in Washington County, that center has been crucial.”

Goode added that local economic development and the MCATC have a close relationship, which he said is important for education and businesses alike.

“It’s important, not only to attract industry and new jobs, but also, it’s important to help the businesses that are here,” Goode said.

Robotics and other industrial careers are growing, but the medical field is one area that is also looking for talented new people. One Washington County student working toward a career in medicine is Molly Hilton, who plans to be registered nurse. In preparation for her career, Hilton has been studying at the MCATC, and said she feels she is getting a huge jump-start for her career.

“Some people don’t go to college knowing what they want to do, but I feel like I’ve got a head start getting my classes done my first year, and working to get my registered nurse in four years, and be out in the field earlier,” Hilton said. “I was interested in the medical field, and started with health science in my sophomore year. That helped me learn what I wanted to do.”

For more on the MCATC visit www.marion.k12.ky.us and click on schools.