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Great Falls schools prepare students for the military and beyond

  • Published
  • By Lauren O'Connor
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

The Great Falls community is close-knit and it’s no surprise that it wants the best for its children’s futures. Through generous donations from local businesses and families, Great Falls High School added a new addition to house larger classrooms and state-of-the-art equipment for Career and Technical Education programs.

Col. Anita Feugate Opperman, 341st Missile Wing commander, and Col. Lisa Martinez, 341st Mission Support Group commander, visited GFHS this afternoon to celebrate Purple Up! For Military Kids. They met with Great Falls JROTC cadets, school staff and education partners for a tour of the updated CTE facilities.

There are about 600 students, many who are military dependents, in the CTE program learning trade skills in health science, business education, industrial technology, agricultural education, and family and consumer sciences. Contributions from the community create more opportunities for graduating students.

The new wood shop is double the size of the old one with an added classroom, allowing the students to learn in an appropriate environment.

The community also pours into the youth of GFHS by donating their time and experiences.

“People in the community are giving back to our schools and children,” Paul Culbertson, GFHS associate principal said. “We’ve got experienced electricians, plumbers, craftsmen donating their time to teach these kids.”

The welding and metal shop also got an upgrade. The old shop could fit 18 children and was known for its poor ventilation; now, 24 students can work comfortably. The Office of Public Instruction, the state education agency, is working with private sector partners and higher education to ensure that students graduate with skills that will allow them to succeed in college or the workforce immediately after completing high school.

The new auto hobby shop has room for four cars and a state-of-the-art program that offers Great Falls graduates internships and certifications right out of high school, allowing these students to jump into their career without college debt.

“Classrooms don’t have to have desks and chairs for students to learn,” said Elsie Arntzen, Public Instruction superintendent. Thomas Moore, Great Falls Public Schools superintendent, added, “These programs prepare kids for careers in the military and trade industries… they learn team building and problem-solving skills.”

From a student-run coffee bar to early childhood development programs, these students are getting the skills and experience needed to start a career right out of high school. According to Culbertson and Arntzen, these programs are rendering positive results.

About half of their students immediately enter the workforce after graduation. About seven percent enter the military. Ninety-seven percent of their students enrolled in three CTE programs graduate on time, 10 percent higher than the state average.

“We’re trying to expose our students to as many careers as possible so they can make informed decisions about what they want to do in life,” said Culbertson.

After the tour, the group had a networking opportunity over lunch. The JROTC cadets introduced themselves and asked questions to Feugate Opperman and Col. Jeffery Carlton, 120th Airlift Wing commander.

“Thank you for all you do to support our military families,” said Feugate Opperman in her closing remarks. “Giving our military kids a solid foundation and education is reassuring to our Airmen. You grant us the peace of mind to get the mission done, knowing our families are taken care of.”

She addressed the JROTC cadets, “The skills you’re learning now will help you in whatever you choose for your careers, whether it’s in the military or something else. For those of you who do join, I’m excited to see what you will bring to our force.”