Open house lets Rowanty students showcase skills learned

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 10, 2018 | 12:30 p.m. 

CARSON – The holiday season is here and one of the hallmarks of the time of year is opening our doors to friends and family to fellowship and spend time with one another.

That spirit was found at Rowanty Technical Center in Carson last Wednesday evening as they hosted their third annual open house event, allowing parents, friends, and members of the community to tour the school and see exactly what students working on the various labs and classrooms.

Ranging from nursing, cosmetology, to automotive technology, all of Rowanty’s learning areas were open to attendees to tour and spend time with students and instructors of a school that is seeing growth as demand for more skilled workers continues to grow in Central Virginia and abroad. 

Greeting visitors to the school last week was Rowanty principal Cheryl Simmers, who commented any opportunity to open the doors to the school to the community is something she looks forward to. 

“It is important for the community to realize what we are doing here, along with showcasing our efforts to help drive economic development in the area because we want to provide a skilled workforce for all three counties we serve – Dinwiddie, Prince George, and Sussex,” she remarked. 

Rowanty Technical Center instructors Shelia Vick and Lizette Parker welcome visitors to the nursing classroom during last week’s open house, allowing attendees to ask questions and learn more about the center’s offerings. (Michael Campbell)

During a visit to the school earlier this year, Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni talked with Simmers and students at Rowanty about the important role the center and state technical education institutions as a whole play in the development of a strong and diverse workforce, producing students who are certified in various fields and ready to go on the job right out of high school, something highly sought in today’s economy.

The most recent data available show the number of credentials earned by students in the Commonwealth continues to rise and, for Simmers, that means students not only need the skills when it comes to executing tasks on the job, but they also need the intangible skills employers look for, such as work ethic and the ability to be a reliable member of a team by showing up to work on time. It’s those reasons why she says students are reminded they are “on the job” when they come to class at Rowanty.

“Initially, it can be a struggle to get students to understand when they come through the doors that they are on the job, but once they get in here and they get to work and we start incorporating instruction with concepts that are related to the workforce, they tend to embrace them,” Simmers explained. “Once that happens, we start to see a decrease in absenteeism and an increase in self-motivation and, we find that we are able to help these students be placed into jobs after they graduate.”

Last Wednesday’s open house, along with similar events held by the school have been well attended, with members of local governing bodies from the three localities Rowanty serves and school officials making their way to the center to spend time with students and teachers, giving all involved valuable facetime with one another and valuable hands-on time with various projects being done by students.

Prince George County School Board member Chris Johnson talks with students and in the electricity lab at Rowanty Technical Center during last week’s open house. (Michael Campbell)

As she spoke from a newly renovated conference room where a vast majority of the work inside was done by Rowanty students, Simmers said times like open houses are a great chance for the center’s students to take center stage.

“I always believe that people should have pride in their work and the fact that students take the time to bring their friends and families to come and see what they do tells me they are taking pride in their work, which translates to pride in their school,” she said.

Over the last few years, Simmers has worked to expand the center’s outreach efforts with the community, with open houses and Rowanty’s annual job fair garnering lots of attention and interest from local businesses. During the most recent job fair earlier this year, Simmers noted that over 60 vendors attended the event, the most ever, giving students an opportunity to link up with companies interested in their skills and to possibly bring them on board upon completion of school.

“It was really nice to see how many companies wanted to come,” she said of last school year’s job fair. “We have already had companies begin to contact us to potentially come this school year and they want information on the coming year’s fair. So it is clear to me that they are interested in our workforce.”

Simmers continued, “Some of our students are now being employed by some of the best-paying companies in the area. We just had an electricity student who is going Philip Morris straight out of high school, which is huge because people find Philip Morris is often a ‘career job’ and not just a job. We also find our students do well in college because they are making good choices and they understand the concepts of work ethic and attendance. So all of the soft skills that we push while they are here help them move forward.”

She went on to say that she and her staff continue to keep their ears pressed to the needs of the business community and that allows them to continue to adjust and even expand offerings in the future. 

“Something that we are seriously considering and hopeful that we can get support for with partnerships and funding is a logistics program,” Simmers said, noting the growth of logistics-based businesses in the region with the opening of ALDI grocery stores’ new regional headquarters and distribution center in Dinwiddie, which joins Walmart distribution in the county, Food Lion distribution in Prince George and other similar institutions in the region, including the Army Logistics University on Fort Lee.

“This program could potentially provide workers with a Certified Logistics Technician or Certified Logistics Associate certification, which are required for those programs and could lead them to jobs,” she detailed. “Given that ALDI has come to Dinwiddie, coupled with the distribution centers that are already here and the companies that have distribution features in them, that is a large population of employers that no-one is providing skilled workers for, so we are seriously considering that right now.”

The addition of ALDI to the region’s distribution and logistics business roster has not been missed by Rowanty Technical Center as principal Cheryl Simmers says they are looking at adding a logistics program to the center to get students certified in the growing field. (Michael Campbell)

Simmers added that plumbing, barbering, and some form of agricultural education are being researched for future offerings. 

“We want to offer a variety of programs so all students have opportunities here,” she said.

In regards to current offerings, Simmers said, “about two-thirds” of the center’s programs are at capacity, meaning they have at or close to 20 students in the many of Rowanty’s second-year programs and the one-year nurse’s aid program.

“We are increasing enrollment every year, and we are seeing the programs be filled, along with an overload of students who want to take part in those programs, which means there’s a need for an additional section or more,” she remarked. “More students want to come here and gain the skills needed to be productive citizens and maintain a good job.”

To learn more about Rowanty Technical Center, visit the facility’s website at http://rowanty.us.

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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