Welding program
Welding program equipment is installed Monday at the Piney River Technical Center. Credit: BRAD GENTRY | HOUSTON HERALD

When classes begin next week at the Houston School District it will mark an expanded offering in technical education with learning occurring a short distance away at the Piney River Technical Center.

In partnership with the City of Houston’s Industrial Development Authority and others in the community, it marks a big step for training students in demand jobs for today’s economy.

The health occupations program is expanding under the leadership of Jennifer Gunter. She was preparing classroom space and equipment this week in advance of 14 high school students in the preliminary class and nine for an advanced offering. Two of the largest healthcare providers locally — Houston House and Texas County Memorial Hospital — have pitched in to help on the project. Their hope is that the classes will introduce students to available healthcare careers and develop a labor pool.

Gunter, a Houston native, said the program is already paying dividends. Some previous students have jobs as certified nurse aides at Houston House. With the launch of the new school year, students will find equipment filling the building — nearby are beds with mannequins — to expose pupils to a medical setting.

The Piney River Technical Center building also houses a satellite of Drury University that offers classes here and The Durham Co., which manufactures electrical products and operates in two other locations in Houston.

Adam Vandiver, who is returning to his native roots to oversee a welding program, said his neighbor in the building, Durham, has been great to help on the effort. Vandiver, who moved here after living in the South, is returning to the town where his father, Brad, was raised. His grandparents are John and Diane Vandiver of Houston. His aunt, Wanda Ichord, is a long-time school district employee at the elementary school.

Vandiver has experience teaching welding and working in the industry. He’s expecting 14 local students and others from Summersville School District. On Monday, he gave a tour of classrooms, equipment and a shop area. Workers with Brad Hooper’s The Overlay Guys were busy installing equipment and have taken an interest in assisting with the welding program.  Nearby, equipment sat ready for use that allows students to shear metal and punch it in an all-in-one process.

“Building any new program from the ground up requires hard work, some long nights and a knowledge of industry needs in the community.  The Houston Welding Advisory Committee, Brad Hooper with TOG Industrial Services, The Durham Co., and members of the IDA of Houston have contributed to these major initial efforts,” said Dr. Justin Copley, high school principal. “Houston High School will continue to work with industry leaders and local businesses to ensure that our training will assist in filling industry needs in Houston and surrounding areas.”

Houston High School will continue to work with industry leaders and local business that our training will assist in filling industry needs in Houston and surround areas.”

Dr. Justin COPLEY, high school principal

A $260,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Facilities Grant was awarded earlier to the Houston Industrial Development Authority (IDA). The funding went toward the purchase of equipment for the health services classes and welding program.

To qualify for the grant, the IDA provided a $65,000 match. USDA representative Emma Hohenberger, who works at a local district office, was instrumental in the process of obtaining the grant.

The school district has high hopes for the programs. It is currently is in talks with the IDA to purchase the building. It plans to hold a Sept. 14 public hearing to discuss potentially buying the building, equipping and furnishing it.


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