Area career and technical schools 'busting at the seams'
Aug. 19—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Throughout the past few years, area career and technical centers have seen an influx in student enrollment that has led to growing programs, additional hires and expansions of facilities.
"We have a lot of programs that are just busting at the seams," said Andrew Paronish, director of Admiral Peary Area Vocational-Technical School in the Ebensburg area, which went from about 470 students about five years ago to about 750 this coming term. Because of the growth, school administrators have added more space and hired more personnel.
Admiral Peary's most popular programs out of 17 total range from cosmetology and welding to diesel mechanics and culinary arts.
Paronish said that cosmetology is a good example of the renewed interest in vocational careers. There are 86 students signed up, and the class has been full for years, so another instructor and an additional aide have been added.
"We're in a real good place," Paronish said.
Assistant Director Joseph Luther said that career and technical education is again being recognized as a viable career path for students, and parents are buying into the idea.
Michael Dadey, Greater Johnstown School District vocational director, said he thinks that the increased enrollment and interest in career and technical education is due to students shifting away from the traditional college track.
"I think that all goes back to people realizing there are other options out there other than going to college," he said.
Greater Johnstown High School is a comprehensive high school that houses vocational programs within the building.
Dadey said there was a small dip in enrollment for career and technical education in the past few years, but that trend is reversing.
This coming school year, roughly 475 students are enrolled in the school's 12 vocational offerings. The most popular programs are culinary arts, computer systems technology, cosmetology and child care. There has been an increase for sign-ups in construction trades and welding, Dadey said.
Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center in Richland Township is experiencing similar upticks in enrollment. So is Somerset County Technology Center, where officials have reported significant growth for several years.
In 2020, GJCTC had roughly 380 secondary students enrolled, but looking to the 2023-24 school year, there are nearly 600 students ready to study trades work.
"This is where students want to come to learn to earn," Augustine said.
Jason Hicks, exiting GJCTC high school principal, considers the growth to be a "testament to our teachers" and to parents' recognition of quality.
In total, GJCTC has 14 secondary programs, two special education offerings, six adult programs, a branch campus in Bedford County for welding and another in Monroeville for nursing.
Augustine said the growth has led to hiring more teachers for the culinary, cosmetology, welding and construction technology programs.
The most popular programs are welding, cosmetology, health assistant and construction technology.
And help is needed. School officials are seeking people with career experience to serve as aides in cosmetology and welding.
GJCTC has undergone a nearly $18 million renovation throughout the past 15 months to upgrade the building, which leaders consider to be an investment in career and technical education.
Paronish said his facility is running out of room, and if enrollment and interest in career and technical education continues to grow, Admiral Peary may need a building project, too.
Dadey said Greater Johnstown has moved shops around and expanded rooms to house additional students in the past few years.
He credited the focus on hands-on training-applicable certifications for the interest in trades, describing career and technical education as "very important for students."