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Nontraditional' students building careers at Ross Collins

By Staff
LEARNING TO WELD Shanita Grey (left) and Daniel Boyd, 10th grade students at Ross Collins Career and Technical Center, weld a fence. Photo by Carisa McCain / The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie/staff writer
Jan. 13, 2002
As a little girl, Jessica Morton picked up a curious object in her grandfather's backyard one day and asked him what it was.
Now a sophomore at Meridian High School, Morton is making good grades in her auto body repair class at Ross Collins Career and Technical Center.
Since before she can remember, Morton was trying to help her grandfather, Henry Lee Ford and her father, William Morton, as they worked on cars in the backyard, but they discouraged her because she is female.
After graduation Morton plans to join the U.S. Navy. She hopes to earn enough money to open an auto body shop.
Morton's grandfather and father let her help a little bit now, but she admits they're still skeptical, it being her first year in the class. She has no doubt they'll be coming to her when she opens her own shop.
Changing times
Names like Jessica, Leslie, Hillary and Shanita are becoming more common during roll call in local vocational classes as more female students take advantage of such courses as auto body repair, auto mechanics and welding.
On the other hand, more males are answering the roll in childcare classes.
Ross Collins is seeing a swing toward "nontraditional" enrollment students enrolled in classes that cover fields of work in which less than 25 percent workers of their gender are employed.
Jane Beasley, a member of Ross Collins' support services staff, said the school sees more nontraditional students each year.
Charles Stokes is the auto body repair instructor at Ross Collins. He has taught for 27 years and has always had females in his classes, but, for the last few years, he said more females are getting involved.
Stokes, who has Morton and another female, Heloniafai McDade, in classes this year, said young women are becoming more involved in all phases of vocational training and are doing a good job. He said there have been no problems with males and females working together in class, but there is a degree of competitiveness between the genders, which he said makes the class more interesting.
Making choices
Hillary Martin is a senior at Meridian High School who plans to study computer graphics at Meridian Community College after graduation. She is taking auto mechanics at Ross Collins this year because she wanted to learn more about cars. She is expanding on an interest she already shares with her father. She said they work on cars together at home.
Leslie Currie, also an MHS senior, is in the auto mechanics class as well. She took the course because she wanted to learn how to do some of the maintenance on her car for herself.
Tom Atkins, who has been an auto mechanic for 40 years, teaches the class. He said Martin and Currie are exceptional students.
Shanita Grant said, "I wanted to try something new." That's why she is a first year welding student at Ross Collins. Grant is a sophomore at MHS.
Now that she has tried it, she plans to make a career out of it. She wants to be an underwater welder.
Females are not new to welding class. Allen Harwell, who has taught the class at Ross Collins for eight years, said he has had one or two female students every year, but the profession is still dominated by males.
Reginald Houston is a first year childcare student who said he had some reservations about taking a class traditionally made up of females. He decided it's what he wanted to do. He plans a career as a child care provider.
Bonnie Collins, the Ross Collins childcare instructor, would like to see more males in the class, which cares for children of staff members in the Meridian Public School District.
The first year of the program focuses on prenatal issues, risks of teen pregnancy and the development of children from conception to age 5, both physically and emotionally.
The second year of the course focuses on owning and operating child care centers.