Johnsburg vocational programs get the works

JOHNSBURG – Grinning, 18-year-old Emilie Walz showed off a weld bead just outside the welding shop at Johnsburg High School.

“You just do little circles close together, and it will melt into one giant puddle,” she said. “You’ll see it glowing red.

“Once it’s cooled down, you go straight across to that anvil thing in the middle of the shop, and you hit it multiple times because there’s a coating all over it and you have to get it off. Then you go to the water wheel polish it up, and it looks so nice and pretty.”

Walz plans to put the weld on display so she can track the progression of her work.

A senior at Johnsburg High School, she plans to pursue occupational therapy after graduation, but said she thinks vocational classes are important and give her skills that other girls don’t have.

Vocational programs always have been a priority in Johnsburg District 12, Johnsburg High School Principal Kevin Shelton said.

“We put a lot of kids into high-paying careers right out of school,” auto teacher Bob Kerrigan said, standing in front of a navy 1969 Mack B, a semi-truck that students are restoring. “We’re very proud of that.”

The school is looking to expand its one-semester welding course into a yearlong one and align its curriculum with what Lake County Tech offers. It also wants to add a second level for seniors that would prepare students for American Welding Society certification. Staff also is working with McHenry County College to give students in Heavy Diesel I and Machine Tool Technology I courses the opportunity to earn dual credit. Johnsburg offers dual credit for its nursing and auto service occupation classes.

The Heavy Diesel course already lets students earn their commercial driver’s license.

Cody Katenhusen, 18, earned his CDL just six months after getting his regular driver’s license.

The licensing won’t immediately translate into a driving job after high school because most insurance companies require drivers to be at least 23 years old. But Katenhusen said the training he has – learning to operate heavy equipment and repair cars and trucks – will help him get a foot in the door even before he can drive for a career.

“It will help prepare me because with this – I’ve had my CDL for a year – it lets us go out and drive and get real-world experience on the road,” Katenhusen said.

As he drove one of the school’s seven semis west of the school, he added, “When [people] see a bunch of young kids driving, they usually freak out.”

The school also operates a printing shop in its graphics courses, said graphics teacher Larry Zimmerman, who also heads the industrial technology department.

Students who go on to Triton College in River Grove can opt out of entry-level classes.

“I always kind of tell kids, ‘I’m the foreman and you’re the employees,’ ” Zimmerman said. “We get requests from other schools, the village and the community.”

In different parts of the workshop, Johnsburg students worked on various projects, some designing logos, some printing envelopes and fliers for a school benefit, and others making signs for the parent-teacher organization.

“I think [the district] recognizes that not every kid is college bound,” metal work teacher Kevin Duffy said. “Some schools are so focused on college, college, college. They may have better scores, but the board recognizes that not all kids are college bound.”

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