Celebrating Our Spirit: Career tech promises new path to graduation

LIMA — The commercial-grade kitchen doubles as a classroom at Lima Senior High School.

Here, students run their own restaurant, the Spartan Inn, through the high school’s career technical program, where they learn the basics of restaurant management before graduating from high school.

Down the hall is the student-run autobody shop, the welding lab and the building trades lab. Look further, and you’ll find the graphic design studio, the daycare or the nursing classroom.

Soon, audio engineering students will have access to their own recording studio to record original music or produce live broadcasts.

Lima Senior juniors and seniors have the option to enroll in one of 12 career technical programs, providing a combination of hands-on instruction and academic work for students considering careers as varied as engineering, agriculture, early childhood education, graphic design and construction — available right at the high school.

Courtnee Morris calls it Lima’s best-kept secret.

It starts with a college and career readiness course freshman year. Sophomores then have the option to enroll in introductory courses in career tech to determine which program, if any, they wish to pursue.

“It’s not about sticking every student into a career program,” said Morris, director of the career tech program at Lima Senior. “It’s about making sure that students are making informed decisions and choices as we try to help them build their path to graduation and beyond.”

A new path to graduation, and beyond

For Morris, career tech can engage students who have otherwise fallen out of love with learning, ultimately improving their academic performance, attendance and potential to graduate by allowing them to learn what they love.

“We want our students to graduate,” Morris said, “but we want them to graduate with this path in mind, whatever the next step is,” whether that be college, the workplace or earning a credential so the student can pay the way through college.

About 85% of recent Lima Senior graduates who participated in a career technical program are now employed or enrolled in college, Morris said.

Still, the perception of career technical education and career centers such as Vantage and Apollo Career Center as a final destination, rather than one that could lead to college, is one that Tara Shephard hopes to dispel.

“People think if you go career tech, you don’t go to college,” said Shephard, director of adult education at Apollo, “and that’s not the case. We’re a pathway, a real pathway.”

The career center is at once a high school and adult education center, which emphasizes training for in-demand careers and industry-recognized credentials. The career center’s motto, Shephard said, is to get students ready for employment, enrollment in a post-secondary institution or enlistment in the armed forces.

Apollo works closely with employers to develop programs relevant to today’s workforce and has since partnered with some of the region’s top employers to provide apprenticeships for 127 students, who attend classes at Apollo while working full-time.

Evolving attitudes

“There was a stigma attached to a vocational education, like you can’t go to college,” Shephard said. But that stigma is fading as more people realize vocational schooling, or a career technical education, can act as a pathway to college.

Students who earn short-term practical nursing certifications at Apollo, for example, can enroll in Rhodes State College’s licensed profesisonal nurse to registered nurse program, ultimately allowing them to work in health care before becoming registered nurses.

The certifications available go beyond nursing assistants, paramedics and commercial driver’s licenses too.

At Vantage Career Center, students can become certified drone pilots through the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA unmanned aircraft system license can in turn “act as a springboard for operation of larger drones,” instructor Daniel Joyce said.

The certification meets half of the graduation requirements for criminal justice, construction equipment technology and agricultural diesel programs at Vantage, Joyce said, and makes students “immediately qualified” and valuable employees at “no additional cost in time of resources to that organization.”

‘We need a pipeline’

Some students will transition directly into the workforce, such as Apollo seniors working toward their fire and emergency medical technician certifications.

Apollo has offered fire and EMT training for decades, which expanded to the high school three years ago amid pleas from local fire departments to build a “pipeline” for the workforce.

“The industry was like, ‘Listen, we need people. We need a pipeline,’” Shephard said. “(Workers) are coming in through adult education, but we need them to know their options earlier.”

The Lima Fire Department recently hired three Apollo students, Shephard said, and eight recent Apollo graduates who have already earned their entry-level fire and EMT certifications are working in the field, earning $57,000 per year.

“They’re 18 years old with a state pension, no college debt,” she said.


Plenty of foods, items and ideas are created right here in the Lima region. Celebrating Our Spirit looks at those organizations that make the area such a vibrant place to live, work and play.

Read more stories at LimaOhio.com/tag/spirit.