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MCTEA secures Workforce Education Grant aimed to propel architecture, construction students forward

Funds to go toward purchase of new equipment

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Marty Royston, a teacher with the architecture and construction program at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy, helps student Maya Gonzalez prepare a sprayer for her woodworking project.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — Maya Gonzalez, a junior at Mitchell High School, waved a sprayer back and forth as she looked to put some finishing touches on her woodworking project. A wooden bench that doubles a storage chest is nearly complete, and she said she was happy with the results so far.

“It’s going to have a piano hinge so I can store stuff inside,” Gonzalez said. “It started out as a drawing and I found a sketch online with all the dimensions. It’s taken a lot of sanding. And cutting. And Marty (Royston’s) help. And now it’s here.”

Gonzalez is one of about 200 students that school leaders at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy (MCTEA) say will benefit from a recent Workforce Education Grant that was awarded to the school by the state. That matching grant of $111,467, which was announced by the state in April, will go toward the purchase of upgraded equipment that should keep students on the cutting edge of industrial technology.

Marty Royston, an architecture and construction teacher at MCTEA, said they already have their eyes on the equipment they hope will help propel students forward in their search for lifelong skills as well as the possibility of future employment.

“We’ve got quite a bit of new stuff we’re going to be getting. Some new technology that will make the work safer, and a lot of stuff that will prepare them more if they’re going on to Mitchell Technical College or into the workforce,” Royston said.

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The equipment is expected to include a large CNC router as well as a few handheld CNC routers, along with an actual sawmill that will be able to convert raw logs and timber into usable wood planks for use in construction projects.

The goal is to keep the experience high school students find at MCTEA on par with what they will encounter in a technical college environment, giving them a leg up over their peers that may not have access to the same opportunities that a CTE academy can provide.

“Some of the stuff we’re getting, if they went into a cabinet shop, it’s stuff they would see and use there. So they get their hands on it here so they are a little further along than someone who comes in with no experience,” Royston said.

A considerable shortage of skilled laborers continues to plague American industry, and entities like MCTEA, Mitchell Technical College and their industry partners are working to help ensure a steady flow of those students into post-secondary classrooms or the labor force proper.

“They’re all looking for more people. The shortage is just unbelievable. If we can give some kids thinking about college or Mitchell Tech (the latest tools), they’ll have that extra experience coming in, which will help our industry partners find better employees,” Royston said.

Shane Thill, director of MCTEA, said students having access to the latest tools and technology is important to helping them determine if a particular discipline is something they want to pursue later as a career.

“It provides students an opportunity to see if it's a career path they’re interested in. That way when they’re moving toward that arena they can say yes, that’s what I want to do because of the experiences I had in high school,” Thill said. “Because not all high school students get that opportunity. We’re lucky to have our CTE academy and lucky that our state recognizes the importance of having a grant like this.”

The programs at MCTEA have been recipients of the grant before thanks to the efforts of staff and administration. Royston worked with industry partners and Mitchell Tech to gauge what skills the school and those employers are looking for and passed information on to Thill and Joe Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell School District, who did the grant writing.

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Grants like this are crucial to keeping the program updated and modern.

“It would be almost impossible to purchase some of this type of equipment because of the cost,” Thill said.

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Maya Gonzales, a junior at Mitchell High School, applies clear coat to a bench she built in a class at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy. School officials say a recent grant awarded to the school will help keep students like Gonzales ahead of the game when it comes to preparedness for a job in industry, a future at a technical college or even for owning their own home.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

Nine South Dakota Workforce Education Grants, totaling $1,418,942 were awarded to South Dakota public school districts in the latest round. In 2013, the South Dakota Legislature established the Workforce Education Fund. Part of that fund was designated to provide grants for career and technical education programs in secondary schools. Additional grants were awarded this year because the program is being supplemented with $360,042 in federal dollars available to the Department of Education through the American Rescue Plan, according to a press release from the South Dakota Department of Education.

“Career and technical education provides young people hands-on learning opportunities and helps them connect their classroom experience to their options for education and careers after graduation,” said Secretary of Education Tiffany Sanderson. “I commend these districts and their industry partners for offering cutting-edge programs in our middle and high schools.”

The purpose of the grant program is to make transformative change in career and technical education programs offered in middle and high schools. High quality CTE programs give students the knowledge, skills, and experiences to be prepared for post-secondary education and the workforce. Partnerships among secondary education, post-secondary education, and business and industry lay the foundation for modern CTE programs.

Gonzales said she plans to use her skills at the very least as a hobby or for tasks around the house, but the program has given her a chance to dovetail that work into a job or career if she so chooses.

“I plan to do it as a hobby, my other professional (interest) is as a veterinarian. That’s something I want to do. But this is definitely something I will keep doing in the meantime,” Gonzalez said.

Thill also mentioned that MCTEA is always encouraging students to give its programs a try. That is especially true for girls, who are traditionally underrepresented in some technical job fields. Gonzalez said she has enjoyed her time working with wood and tools thus far, and would encourage any students, boy or girl, to give it a chance, whatever their future plans may be.

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“I would tell them to not listen to the people that tell you that you can’t do it, because if it’s something you want to do you learn it once and then you keep going,” Gonzalez said. “And this is something I can have for the rest of my life, because I built it. So take advantage.”

Thill agreed, saying that programs like architecture and construction can provide students with lifelong skills, whether that be as a hobby, a homeowner or a future skilled worker in the field. Giving those students an advantage at the next level is what classes at MCTEA are all about.

“It provides them the opportunity to move to the next level, whether that’s Mitchell Tech or into the industry,” Thill said. “That’s one of our goals — to provide our students here with the basic skills so when they transfer to the next level they’re ready to go and hopefully will be a step up compared to their peers at that point in time.”

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Students Jason Bamsey and Austin Hohn work on a shelving project at Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy recently.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

Other schools receiving a 2022 Workforce Education Grant include Belle Fourche School District at $98,575, Bon Homme School District at $225,000, Bridgewater-Emery School District at $225,000, Brooking School District at $150,000, Canistota School District at $40,400, Florence School District at $225,000, Spearfish School District at $225,000 and the Tea Area School District at $118,500.

More information on the Workforce Education Grant program can be found at the South Dakota Department of Education website.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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