PAOLA — Students at the Miami County campus of Fort Scott Community College are trading in traditional textbooks and notepads for welding torches and power tools.

Two new career-focused programs — construction trades and welding — are highlighting the college’s new emphasis on trade skills, and several Miami County high school students are already taking advantage of the classes, which began Aug. 20 in newly renovated facilities.

Community members and business leaders got the opportunity to tour the Miami County campus and learn about the classes during a Paola Chamber of Commerce coffee and ribbon-cutting event Friday, Oct. 19.

Welding students had a large audience watching them Friday as they ignited their torches and worked on different techniques behind protective screens.

When they’d emerge, the students would plunge their work into a bucket of water, sending steam shooting upward. Instructor Kabria Davies would then look over their work and talk about areas of improvement.

“Right now they’re learning about safety and welding basics,” Davies said. “They’re doing some arc welding and MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding. Next semester we’ll move into advanced technologies and TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welding.”

Davies said she has nine high school students in this semester’s welding class, including students from Paola, Louisburg and Prairie View high schools, as well as the Paola Adult Education Center.

Robert Triston Folsom, a senior from Paola High School, is one of those students, and he said the class is a perfect fit for him.

“I’ve been welding since I was 6 years old,” Folsom said. “It’s been my dream.”

Folsom said he’d love to get a job at Doherty Steel in Paola.

Construction trade instructor Gerry Carter also has nine high school students in his class this semester, including eight from Paola and one from Louisburg.

Carter said the class is based on curriculum from The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). The material is split into modules, which require students to pass a written test and a performance-based test.

“Safety is always first,” Carter said. “We just started using some of the power tools yesterday.”

Paola High School senior Blake McMillan said he didn’t realize how in-depth the NCCER material was, but he is enjoying tackling the curriculum with his fellow classmates.

“I’m learning a lot more than I thought,” he said. “It’s a fun class.”

The welding and construction classrooms are part of a newly renovated portion of the Fort Scott Miami County campus. Don Morris of MPH Development, who owns the building, cut the ribbon Friday inside the new welding class space.

Alan Hire of Triangle Builders, which is the company that handled the renovation work, also was on hand.

Those who attended Friday’s event learned about more than just welding and construction. Suzie Tousey and students in her criminal justice class set up a mock murder crime scene and talked with visitors about the clues.

Jorge Lebron, a senior at Louisburg High School, wore plastic gloves and demonstrated how a crime scene is processed.

In another room, Allied Health Coordinator/Instructor Vickie Laderer talked about her class, which gives students the opportunity to learn how to become a certified nurse aide working in the geriatric field. The classroom was complete with instructional mannequins laying on top of hospital beds.

Laderer said the program has 51 students this fall, including high school students from Osawatomie, Paola and Louisburg.

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