A new welding program at the Ignite Public Schools campus on East Elizabeth Street in Brownsville has students on track to graduate with a high school diploma and a head start on a high-paying career.
Ignite Public Schools is a charter school district focused on students who previously left school without graduating. Its students often are older than the usual high school student. Often they have the focus they lacked before.
“We have a saying that life got in the way,” said Carrie Nance, Ignite center director and principal. “These kids all have a story to tell, but they’re here because they want to be.
“If you don’t care about the cheerleaders and the sports,” Nance said, you can finish in 2 1/2 years through what is called “accelerated learning.” She explained that 99 percent of graduates finish with a Texas Education Agency recommended diploma.
Ignite contracts with the McAllen Careers Institute to teach the welding program, which is open to juniors and seniors and offers certification from the American Welding Society.
“We’re one of the only schools in the Rio Grande Valley certified by the AWS,” instructor Joel Aldape said last week.
“When they finish, they will be able to weld,” Aldape said. “At this point, they can weld two pieces of steel together and we’re only three weeks into the program. They know how to position the tools and how to make a work product. They also learn torch cutting.”
Aldape brings all the equipment on a truck from McAllen and teaches the class from 1-4 p.m. in a building on the old Tipton Ford property just off Palm Boulevard behind Elizabeth Street. Ignite recently purchased the property.
“One of the stipulations is you have to stay in school and graduate,” Aldape said. “One of our cohorts just finished in McAllen, and they’re already being offered jobs.”
Carlos Soriana, who has been at Ignite since February last year, said his goal is to finish work for his diploma, graduate with the AWS certificate, go to college and eventually become a physical therapist.
“I’m mainly going to use this as a backup,” he said.
Saul Mendoza said he learned about the program while attending classes at Ignite.
“I told them I was interested, they signed me up and here I am,” Mendoza said. “I started three months ago. I’m starting to like it, so maybe I’ll make a career out of it. The main thing is to keep going to school. ... I’m close to graduating, and then I’ll go to classes in McAllen. ... I’m looking at pipe welding.”
Nance said her goals for the center, which formally is a campus of Ignite Public Schools and Community Service Centers, is to have permanent auto mechanics and welding programs in the old Tipton back buildings, with a daycare in front and small computer repair shops fronting on Elizabeth Street.
As currently configured, the center has classes for pre-kindergarten through third grade English language learners apart from the high school.
The average ninth-grader is 18 years old, Nance said, “so I graduate a lot of 20- and 21-year-old students. They all graduate with the same TEA diploma you get in regular high school.
In addition to the welding program, Ignite offers career pathways leading to the Computer A-Plus computer repair certification, a Nursing Assistant certification and a Limited Medical Radiology Technician.
Ignite has campuses in Edinburg, Weslaco, Rio Grande City, Mission, Raymondville and Brownsville, said Irene M Cavazos, the district’s Edinburg-based outreach coordinator.
“It’s summer and these kids could be out on the Island, but they choose to be here. They choose to better themselves,” she said of the welding program.