(Times Bulletin/Ed Gebert)
(Times Bulletin/Ed Gebert)

BY ED GEBERT

Times Bulletin Editor

egebert@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - The majority of people think of school as someplace for young folks. By age 18 or 23, most folks leave education behind and move ahead in the work force. But a growing number of people end up back in school, hoping to improve themselves, learn marketable skills, or even taking on a new or specific hobby. While many areas are lacking a facility to continue education into adulthood, Van Wert County is fortunate to have the offerings of Vantage Career Center's adult education department. Heading up that effort is Pete Prichard, the adult workforce education director.

Prichard has been at Vantage for the past 13 years, having been brought in from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services by former director Jim Grant.

"Initially I started off teaching adult education as a classroom instructor for several years," Prichard remembered. "I worked for the training program that set up a truck driving program at community colleges. Even though I don't have a truck driving background, I became very proficient at understanding the rules and regulations."

After serving for a number of years as a classroom teacher, Prichard made the move to Vantage.

"When I had the opportunity to come to Vantage Career Center, I also brought the truck driving program. I stayed in that program for a period of time, and had expanded responsibilities including coordination. Career technical education just became a part of me," he said.

By the time Grant was ready to step aside, Prichard had to consider whether he wanted to step into that role.

"When Jim retired I thought long and hard about taking the responsibilities because there are a lot of things that go with this job. We're still learning along the way, and things are changing all the time," he explained. "Even though my whole career has been centered in adult eduction, I didn't have the exposure to all the things that are encompassed. We service a number of people, and in every program, we want our students to feel like they are the most important people in that program. I see that pride that goes on from program to program."

One of the more common objections for adults in going back to school is the cost.

When Prichard began, only three of the adult education programs at Vantage allowed students to use Pell Grants to finance learning - the police academy, the certified office assistant program, and the medical assistant program. If enrollment was to grow, that issue needed to be addressed. Along with that, demand for skilled workers continued to grow.

"We decided, and [Superintendent] Staci Kaufman really wanted to have an approach for us to really invest more in the trade and industry area. We went through the paperwork process in developing a curriculum and putting things in place for approval to expand our programs. Now we have approved HVAC and electrical trades programs. Those programs help create the pipeline for our wind turbine programs. We also have our precision machining program and the pipe welding program that is going on, so we've almost tripled our Pell-eligible programs," stated Prichard.

With those changes, adult education enrollment has increased, and plans are in the works to make more programs Pell-eligible. That may be enough to convince some people to obtain more job skills and head back to school for specialized training.

Prichard shared, "We put our all into adult education because many times the people who come to our program never thought of themselves as going on to post-secondary education or college. It's such a huge step for them. And we're filling a need for industry and business by giving people an occupational skills they can utilize for the rest of their lives. I think that's such a neat story. And I feel fortunate enough to be on the front lines to have seen that for almost 25 years now."

Prichard is in a position that suits him well. The Temperance, Michigan native got his own education at the University of Toledo as an undergraduate and at Wright State for his master's degree. But he is working toward helping more adults team up with Vantage and partner colleges like Northwest Community College get the additional knowledge and skill needed to improve the lives of the students.

"The biggest thing I like about adult education is being able to reach out to people and provide a short-term training solution where they can have an occupational skill," he said. "What I enjoy the most about it is that it changes lives. It has a great impact on a life in a short amount of time. A lot of it is the emphasis on the quality of the instruction we put out. We touch lives, and that's what I like seeing."