“Ultimately, everything we do at school is an investment in our future. Our return on investment in CTE programs is extremely high.” – Dr. David Mandel, Principal, Marana High School, AZ
I had the privilege to walk into one of the top high school welding and manufacturing shops in Arizona. It was a privilege for many reasons (not just because it was 97 degrees outside and air-conditioned in the shop). It was a privilege because once I stepped into Marana High School Welding Instructor Kenton Webb’s welding shop, I knew there was something special about this program.
Located about 20 minutes northwest of downtown Tucson and about 5 minutes from Saguaro National Park, Webb’s welding program sees about 250 students go through the shop doors every year – an increase of almost 200 students from when Webb started the program almost a decade ago. In the last nine years, the program has come to be one of the premier high school welding shops in the state, which is why our team jumped at the opportunity to visit in person and learn how Webb utilizes Realityworks’ welding training tools and others to engage his students and help them develop skills.
As we walked around Webb’s impressive shop for the first time, we asked him to tell us how the shop came to be. As Webb recalled expanding from a single small shop to two, securing the support of school administrators and funding from grants, etc., I found myself becoming more impressed – especially when he shared that he designed most of the shop’s layout himself, and his students built many of welding booths themselves.
First-year students use Realityworks’ guideWELD® VR welding simulator to hone basic welding skills, eventually moving on to using the guideWELD® LIVE real welding guidance system to understand proper welding techniques (and master bad habits). Finally, Webb lets students loose to weld without any guidance, challenging them to identify and assess their own welds using the RealCareer™ Weld Defects Kit.
What we saw and heard made Webb’s passion for educating clear. Webb knows that being able to help his students truly understand where an in-demand skill like welding could take them is key to engaging them in welding training, and the impact of that understanding was obvious with every student we spoke with. We talked with Kylie, a senior who, of her own accord, took a week-long underwater welding class during spring break. During our conversation, her excitement and pride in the skill Webb has helped her hone came through loud and clear. With every discussion we had, it became more and more obvious that Webb’s students saw welding not only as a skill, but a career.
Our visit happened to occur two days before Marana High School seniors graduated, so there was a palpable excitement in the air. When I asked a few of them of their post-graduation plans, I was struck by how confident they were – a trait I credit in part to the great work being done at Marana High School. These students had plans; they had summer jobs and post-secondary educational opportunities lined up. They were getting offers out of high school for well-paying jobs and they were being accepted at tech schools and colleges.
I had a chance to speak briefly with Marana High School Principal Dr. David Mandel. One of the statements he made stuck with me. He stated that no matter what each Marana High School educator is teaching, “all kids are career-bound,” and they take that very seriously. It’s clear to me that with hard work comes success, and with a passion for welding education and training, Marana High School and Kenton Webb are making a huge difference for welding education, and for each and every student that goes through his classroom.