December 31, 2016
Lucas Gerkinich — a senior at Lake Central High School — isn’t going to college next year, and no one could be more pleased than this director of guidance.
I don’t believe college is for everyone, but I do believe every student should get some form of post-secondary education.
Gerkinich and dozens of other students at Lake Central are enrolled in Career Technical Education classes that are preparing them for real jobs in Northwest Indiana. The students also are fortunate to be attending a school with a variety of work-based learning opportunities.
"We saw education in action,” I told a recent guest that visited several Lake Central classrooms. “We saw kids working in the fields that interest them."
With more than 3,200 students, Lake Central, a READY NWI school, is the fifth-largest high school in Indiana. It is large enough to house a machine shop, auto repair facility and a print shop.
“Last year, I placed 14 students with car dealerships and other auto servicing businesses,” said instructor Dennis Brannock.
Many of the students accepted the entry-level position of lube tech, a position that pays about $40,000 per year. Not bad for someone who spends most of the day changing oil and rotating tires.
But it’s a dirty job, and not everyone likes to work with their hands. Brannock said many of his graduates continue their training and eventually become master-level techs earning upward of $100,000 a year.
At that rate of pay, it’s easy to understand why Gerkinich proclaims, “I wanna work with cars for the rest of my life.”
In the school’s well-equipped machine shop, instructor Terry Richardson is preparing students to become machinists, millwrights and welders. Local firms seeking job candidates are calling Richardson on a regular basis.
“Baby boomers are retiring, and they need to fill those positions,” he stated.
Seniors enrolled in his classes spend two days a week with local firms through the school’s work-based learning program. Upon graduation, many of them are hired for full-time positions.
It’s not uncommon for parents to discourage their children from such careers. But the days of dirty and unsafe machine shops have changed, and opportunities abound.
Another vocational focus at Lake Central is the graphic communications industry. Jeremy Rainwater is the instructor presiding over a print shop that has moved beyond printing forms and booklets for the district.
Students can turn out T-shirts, hallway banners, window screens, decals and a multitude of other products. Rainwater is convinced his students are preparing for jobs not only in the printing industry but across other fields, too. To complete a product, his students must follow instructions, learn to work with others and pay attention to detail.
Their primary customer for printed items is the school district. But nonprofit community groups also benefit from the students' work.
“They take great pride when they see a banner they made on display in Lake Central,” Rainwater said.
Pathways to Excellence is the school district’s motto. Given the opportunities that abound at the high school, it is a motto that rings true.
Melissa Rettig is director of guidance at Lake Central High School. Lake Central High School and the Lake Central School Corporation are members of the READY NWI Education Team. The opinions are the writer's.
The READY NWI partnership supports the unique aspects of community, school, and student, and embraces a commitment to regional thinking and acting in order to ensure prosperity by meeting the skill and education needs of employers throughout Northwest Indiana.