Auburn Career Center has been expanding its programs including a new criminal justice course, Superintendent Dr. Brian Bontempo told Geauga County Commissioners last week.

“This past year we had our first year of criminal justice that we started at the high school [level], and we have seats for 20 students,” he said. “That serves both Lake and Geauga counties, and in Geauga County, you have five school districts, Kenston, Cardinal, Berkshire, Chardon and Newbury.”

West Geauga Local School District participates in the Excell TECC program with Mayfield City Schools in the eastern side of Cuyahoga County and thus is not in the Auburn program.

In addition to the new course, the program has been gaining popularity among high school students, Dr. Bontempo said during the commissioners’ meeting on May 30.

“In the criminal justice [course], we had 70 students sign up this past year for 20 seats.” He explained that the program sometimes cannot accommodate all students who express interest in enrolling depending on the course.

“We have a nice problem,” he said, specifying that it is encouraging to see the return of interest in the building trades by students. “A lot of students want to learn a skill and a trade before they move on, whether it’s in college or the workplace.”

Dr. Bontempo said the increased interest in the trades by students is most likely because the courses offered at the career center come with college credits, meaning students do not have to worry about choosing between learning the trades and going to college.

“People think that it’s, ‘Gee, do I go to the career center, or do I have a path to something to college, perhaps, or the military?’ But it’s not that. It’s both opportunities,” Dr. Bontempo explained.

According to the Auburn Career Center High School Program’s pamphlet, students can earn up to 18-24 college credits in a course – depending on the class – before graduating high school. Through the courses provided, all but one offer college credit.

Dr. Bontempo said the center is looking to expand its programs, but some courses “are too expensive to duplicate somewhere else. You can’t put another machine shop somewhere else; you need an awful lot of money.”

Commissioner Tim Lennon commented that after seeing interest in the trades decline in “youngsters” for so many years, he’s glad to see the interest returning. The Auburn Career Center is “a good way to enter into [the trades]” for young students, he said. Mr. Lennon added that he is familiar with the career center with his family machinery business being a long-time supporter of the program.

Mr. Lennon asked what happened from the 1990s to now that created a decline in courses available for students, to which Dr. Bontempo explained that many universities stopped offering trades as a teacher license in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He said retiring teachers were harder to replace at the high school level.

“At the same time, the state of Ohio was increasing the academic requirements,” he added, saying that as the academic rigor increased in schools, there were fewer opportunities for students to engage in electives that would include the trades.

A current solution the career center has already built into the program is the fact that it offers adult courses. Dr. Bontempo explained that the adult program could utilize some of the high school spaces outside of school hours, which would work to certify more adults in the workforce.

Commissioner James Dvorak added that he believed there would be plenty of companies willing to help the program expand. “I know there are companies begging for people. Lincoln Electric set up your [welding] lab,” he said. “I find there are companies probably willing to do similar things.”

Mr. Dvorak wondered if there was more room for companies or colleges integrating more technology and manufacturing education into high schools. “I think there’s a good marriage there,” he said.

“That’s exactly why we’re going through this exercise,” Dr. Bontempo said on why the center is seeking out expansion possibilities and added that the center’s advisory committee is working on identifying specific needs and potential business partners.

“We’re actually going through a huge workforce analysis right now. Next fall we’ll be rolling out some more information, which I’d be happy to share with anybody, to come back here and share with you,” he said to the commissioners.

“I tip my hat to you guys,” Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri said. “[The Auburn Career Center is] a great place and a great program, but it would be nice to just see some support to continue to keep you guys growing.”

In other news, the board approved several contracts, including a unit price contract from the Geauga County Engineer’s Office with Hoar Construction Company for the construction of a steel storage building on Merritt Road in the amount of $297,875.66. The Maintenance Department was also approved to execute a service contract agreement with Phil Miller Construction for general concrete and masonry work throughout the county not to exceed $30,000.

The commissioners will hold their next regular session on June 11 at 9:30 a.m. and will include an update by the Geauga County Agricultural Society.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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