Bailey Christian has always enjoyed working with his hands.
Outside of his time as a senior at Culpeper County High School, he races motorcycles and does 98 percent of the work on the machines when they break down. Even before he could walk, he was in the garage with his dad, working on engines, welding bumpers and just generally getting his hands dirty.
Those skills have paid off in the classroom as he’s enrolled in Culpeper County Public School’s Career Technical Education program, taught at CCHS by Ted Delano.
“It’s all I’ve been interested in, there’s not a lot of other classes that draw my attention,” Christian said. “It helps me coming to school to have something in my comfort zone and something that I enjoy.”
There is a renewed interest in CTE, especially in Culpeper as the realization that college isn’t always the best option has helped reinvigorate programs dealing with woodworking, agriculture, welding and machine work.
In the past, there may have been a negative connotation if a student wasn’t interested in going to college. However, as more and more students find themselves embroiled in student debt and skilled labor in the nation has dipped, more emphasis has been placed on helping students find skills that can be put to work immediately.
For Christian, welding is one of those skills. Working on Tuesday in the workshop at CCHS, he demonstrated a MIG weld and talked about the change in philosophy and how it has helped his education.
College not for everyone and that’s okay
“I think…people are seeing the better side of it,” Christian said. “If you make a great weld, it looks nice and it’s something you can be proud of. People have a negative view if you don’t go to college these days. If you can get out of school and start making money, you can make more than they [those that go to college] can.”
A byproduct of the class is teaching leadership and work ethic, something Christian clearly exudes.
“It depends on how hard you want to work and how hard you want to work for it,” Christian said.
CCHS has five different activities in the workshop, starting with introduction to power and equipment, followed by engine mechanics, intro to mechanics, building trades, detailed mechanics and metal fabrication.
For Delano, it’s the continuation of a passion he had as a high school student. Now having taught for 15 years, he’s seen a cycle of interest in hands-on education.
“Everybody at this point seems to believe that you can get your hands dirty and still make a living,” Delano said. “You’re not ignorant if you are doing blue collar work. You don’t have to be the top five of your class to have a career that takes care of your family.”
Over the years, his classes have made tool boxes, trailers, pull up bars, a drag for the baseball field and a weight sled. They not only fabricate projects for the school but also help small businesses and farmers in the community.
“Generally whatever project that needs to be done, within limitations we can work up and get it back to them,” Delano said. “Because the classes change, we do it in a limited capacity. It depends on the student’s abilities.”
Some students, like Christian, come with a solid skill set already. Others have no clue what they are doing when they walk into the class. Those are often the most rewarding for Delano.
“Some of them come in with basic skills and we add to it,” Delano said. “Some of them come in and they can’t read a ruler and build projects from scratch when they are done.”
When that light bulb goes on, it’s a proud moment for the program.
“That’s why we do what we do,” Delano said. “It’s great to see them learn, to see them catch on.”
Some skills are harder to learn than others. Take welding, which requires patience, attention to detail and the ability to withstand light and heat.
“Welding is hard, you either have to be in it or stand out of the way because it’s a lot of light and it’s hot,” Delano said. “It can be pretty dirty at times. I’ve had children that were absolutely terrified of it and turned out being great welders.”
Beth Lane, CTE team leader at CCHS, credits Randi Richards-Lutz, Director of Career and Technical Education and Technology at CCPS, for helping put a spotlight on CTE.
“The purpose of it is to get kids in the workplace and ready in all of our courses. We each have the same 21 tasks,” Lane said.
Organizations in the school like FFA are helping prepare students for life after school, without going to college. The club at CCHS has grown to 125 members and there are also chapters at Culpeper Middle School, Floyd T. Binns Middle School and Eastern View High School.
Success stories like Christian are common. He hasn’t decided what he wants to do yet after high school, but he has the basic skills to slot in at just about anywhere.
“He’s quite capable of doing whatever he wants to,” Delano said. “There’s no reason to go to college unless you want to.”
Christian said he’s not sure if he’s going into welding or something else, but he knows that with the skills he’s learned and refined at CCHS, he’s well-prepared for the future.