WGTC Greenville Site Offers Classes to High-Schoolers and Beyond

Staff Report From Newnan CEO

Friday, March 17th, 2017

Every morning, Taylor Stephens pulls her long, blond hair into a tight ponytail, puts on her comic-book-inspired welding helmet and gets to work.

“I love everything about it,” the high school senior says of the welding class she takes at West Georgia Technical College as part of the state’s Move On When Ready program. “When I’m at home or in another class and I’m not welding, I want to be welding.”

Stephens is in her second year of the welding program at WGTC’s Greenville Instructional Site, which sits right across Highway 41 from her home high school, Greenville High. When she entered the MOWR program at the beginning of her junior year, she initially wanted to take nursing classes, but found out she wouldn’t meet an age requirement by the end of her first year.

“One of my friends wanted to try welding, so I said I would try it with her,” Stephens said. “She found out she didn’t really like so she dropped the class, but I stayed with it, and I’m glad I did. It makes the whole high school experience more fun.”

Stephens is one of 76 students in Meriwether County who take MOWR classes with West Georgia Tech this year. That number has more than doubled since 2014, when 35 Meriwether County students were enrolled in the program.

High school students from Greenville High and Manchester High take classes either at Greenville Instructional Site if they’re interested in welding or healthcare, or at WGTC’s LaGrange Campus for a wider variety of courses, including cosmetology, automotive, criminal justice and early childhood education.

In addition to serving MOWR students, the Greenville Site also serves other residents of Meriwether County, with programs in welding and healthcare, as well as offering some core classes for WGTC students. GED preparation classes are also offered there.

Leigh Newman, who serves as the Executive Director of Campus Operations at WGTC’s LaGrange Campus and oversees the Greenville Site, said she’s been reaching out to local industries in Meriwether and surrounding counties to see what kind of skillsets are needed to work there.

“We’re working with local industries in an effort to keep our students and graduates in Meriwether County,” Newman said. “These industries need people to work for them right now, so they’re doing whatever it takes to get some of our graduates.”

That’s how Dr. Tim Dixon, Meriwether County Schools Superintendent, sees workforce development, too.

“Meriwether County is different from anywhere I’ve been,” Dixon said. “I’ve worked in larger school systems where there were a lot more opportunities for students. We wanted to find something that would bring some of those opportunities to this county, and Move On When Ready and our partnership with West Georgia Tech has been a huge part of that.”

Dixon said he believes high-school students should enjoy their time as adolescents and “not grow up too fast,” but MOWR still allows them to enjoy being high-schoolers.

“It’s not for everybody, but for those students who enjoy it and get a lot out of it, it can mean the world to them,” Dixon said. “I think it’s really opened the eyes for a lot of our students to see that industry isn’t what it used to be. When I was in school, you were either college-bound or you took shop class every year for four years. I’m glad to say it’s a different world now, and the students who want to go the technical route have as many opportunities as the one who want to go to a major university.”

The connection between Meriwether County Schools and West Georgia Tech came from a Meriwether County Chamber of Commerce program called Partners in Education, created by Carolyn McKinley, executive director of the chamber.

Jane Fryer, president of the Meriwether County Industrial Development Authority, was there at the inception of Partners of Education and said the program came about when the chamber saw there was no link between the public school system and West Georgia Tech.

“There wasn’t participation either way because no one had worked on it at the time,” Fryer said. “But we started inviting the schools together, and we were told by the school system that they couldn’t afford to bus students to and from the LaGrange Campus every day for Move On When Ready classes that they wanted to take.”

If money was the hurdle, Fryer said she’d go out and raise the money, coming up with $20,000 in the first half of this decade to help fund the program.

“After that, the school system started to pay attention, and because of the Parters in Education committee and our willingness to do what we can, it’s grown over the years, and we’re very pleased with that,” Fryer said. “All it took was realizing there was a need for our students to get all the information they could and educate themselves to go on and do better things.”

Fryer said one of the best aspects of the MOWR program is that it allows students to decide early on if a certain career choice will be right for them. That ability to try something new was huge for Victoria Marlow, another Greenville High senior, who’s found her calling in healthcare.

“I took care of my grandmother a couple of years ago when she was sick, and I realized I was kind of good at it,” Marlow said. “I’d never really considered nursing, but this gave me the opportunity to try a class for free. I ended up really liking the class and wanted to continue, so now I’m just knocking out the prerequisites for classes I’ll end up taking after I graduate high school.”

Marlow said being able to find out what she wants to do for a living at a young age was huge for her.

“You always think you have a plan for something, and then something changes or you don’t like it as much as you thought you would,” Marlow said. “I never thought about being a nurse, but when I actually experienced it, it was something I enjoyed, and I have this Move On When Ready program and West Georgia Tech to thank for that.”

Georgia’s Move On When Ready Dual Enrollment Program allows qualified high school students to maximize their education and career training by taking courses that earn college and high school credit at the same time.

Under MOWR, students may take academic core courses that can transfer to Technical College System of Georgia colleges or University System of Georgia colleges and universities. Students may also take occupational and career courses that can help jump start a career.

Tuition for the courses is paid by the state, meaning the program is free for students.