Two Wewahitchka High School students chat in low tones, their conversation muffled by shiny new welding helmets. They are poised for action but are not yet producing any sparks.

"I think they're waiting for you to put on your safety glasses."

Vocational Instructor Eddie Price offers protective glasses to a visitor, advises her to avoid looking at the welding arc and guides her around the vast, tidy space that is the shop for the school’s welding and carpentry programs. Once glasses are on, the light show begins.

Gulf County’s high school welding program is just in its first year. Under Price’s guidance students constructed the necessary shop furnishings, their first projects. They built saw horses, welding cubicles, vice stands, helmet trees and raw materials storage racks. Though still in infancy, Price feels good about where they stand.

“I feel we are off to a good start due in large part to the boost we were given with T4A funds. Those funds allowed us to buy six welding machines and start-up materials. If we do the same next year we will be well on our way to becoming a viable, self-sustaining program,” he said.

Title IV-A funds purchased shop infrastructure including welding machines, spools, rods, spool guns, helmets, torches, strikers, ratchets, chipping hammers, jackets, gloves, safety glasses, basic hand tools and raw materials to get students started on projects.

In this program, students are first certified in the Core Curriculum which covers basic safety, operations of hand and power tools, employability skills, and more. Students then move to actual welding work for certification in Welding 1. These two certifications combined require more than 300 hours of study, passing scores on 20 computer-based exams and demonstration of proficiency on all the skills.

The curriculum is lengthy and completing the program is a challenge, for now, in the school setting. Students who enter as juniors or seniors will not have enough time to log the necessary hours required for full industry certification.

“That does not mean that there is no place for those students. For them, as well as for students with severe disabilities that may hinder progress in testing, the focus becomes on mastering the hands-on skills so that they are still able to find employment upon completion,” Price said.

“As the welding program grows, students will be able to begin as freshmen and follow it through until graduation. That’s three more years down the road, but I’m looking forward to that first cohort of students going the distance.”

Wewahitchka High School also offers industry certification in Carpentry. The program fills one half of the same neat shop and students can obtain certification in less time than the welding certification, but it still takes a significant time commitment.

For Carpentry 1 certification, students must first pass eight computer-based tests in the same Core Curriculum required for the welding certificate. They must then pass an additional nine tests in carpentry, and the instructor must verify skills proficiency via student demonstrations. Because the two programs share the Core Curriculum, Price hopes to have students obtain dual certification.

Price sees students’ enthusiasm and progress and is proud of the “we are going to make this happen” attitude schoolwide – from students, instructors, and administrators.

Lori Price, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services for Gulf County District Schools (and Eddie Price’s wife), shares the program’s vision. She would like to see three complementary and comprehensive CTE programs at Wewahitchka High School, where she once was principal: welding, carpentry and agriculture.

“The comprehensive nature of the skills addressed would prepare students for any number of vocational undertakings—not to mention teaching skills beneficial throughout their entire adult lives. The curricula address so much more than hammers and nails and the things that usually pop to mind when you hear about them [vocational or CTE programs],” she said. “I believe there are different kinds of intelligence and I would like to see those students who think differently given the opportunity to shine.”

And, she is intrigued by the blended approach to carpentry and welding.

“With a shared core curriculum, I can see a whole new breed of vocational program being developed,” she said.

The Prices share similar goals for the program at Wewahitchka.

Lori Price says she wants students to want to attend school.

“I want them all to feel they have a place regardless of their aptitudes. I want these programs to be the ones held up as examples for the rest of the state and I believe we can achieve this.”

Eddie Price’s goals for the program are simple: Develop a comprehensive program that can support itself and that produces students with industry certification and the skills required for gainful employment.

His goals for the students, he said, are even simpler.

“I want to see them challenged, see them grow, try new skills and learn just what they are capable of as individuals.”