Chances are if you hire a local HVAC, known as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, company to service equipment in your home, you may encounter a Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) graduate. With a specialized HVAC program at the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center, students get hands-on training and access to certification exams and courses before they graduate. In the past five years, program enrollment has increased with an average of about 10 seniors graduating annually.
The program is ideal for students who like to learn by doing and desire to join the workforce immediately upon graduation. Most graduate as employed students or have an apprenticeship secured. According to John Young, HVAC instructor at Stethem, the program includes about 32 students per year. HVAC at Stethem is available for high school students to start their junior year. Students complete their graduation requirements while also working and learning in the HVAC classroom.
James Briscoe will graduate this week from Thomas Stone High School. He is a third generation HVAC student to graduate from Stethem. He is working toward completing the HVAC program certifications and plans to enroll at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM). Briscoe said while he likes working on cars and considered the automotive program, he chose to follow in the footsteps of family members who have found success in working in the HVAC field.
“I grew up loving cars, so at first I thought about applying for the automotive program. My dad went through the HVAC program and is my role model. I also have an uncle and a cousin who attended this program and are doing very well for themselves. The field is steady work doing something I enjoy doing,” Briscoe said.
Juniors Kyle Blankenship and Cole Clements joined the HVAC program this school year because they both wanted experiences outside of the traditional classroom setting. Both attend Stethem in the morning for the HVAC program and La Plata High School in the afternoon for their core classes. Clements said he knew early on that he was interested in pursuing a path other than college.
“I was much more interested in doing something I can apply in the workforce rather than study about things I might never use,” Clements said. He plans to complete the HVAC program next year and eventually launch his own company. He recently landed a position with Bennett Air in Waldorf. Clements said not only did the HVAC program and his instructor, Mr. Young, help him land this position, but his participation in SkillsUSA also prepared him.
SkillsUSA is a national program in which students compete in career and technology education (CTE) events to prepare them for employment and the world of work. Both Blankenship and Clements landed gold medals in SkillsUSA events at the state competition and will travel to the national event next month. Blankenship said he joined SkillsUSA to compete in the main HVAC event, but medaled in another category: job skill demonstration.
To compete, Blankenship was judged on his HVAC knowledge and ability to explain to judges how pieces of HVAC equipment function. He said he also chose the HVAC path because he wants to do something he enjoys. “I don’t really plan to attend college. I do not think it is in my plan … I wanted the opportunity to do something at school that I really liked. Something to keep my interest. Without the program, I am not sure I would have been all that interested in finishing high school,” Blankenship said.
St. Charles High School junior Arica Jones joined the HVAC program at Stethem after she attended a CTE open house. “I knew a little bit about the programs here [Stethem] so I attended the open house and the HVAC one stood out,” she said. Like her classmates, Jones said she was more interested in learning through a hands-on approach than spending an entire day in a traditional classroom. “I love what I am learning here. I want to be an architect and the knowledge I have access to and knowing about the systems here will help me,” Jones said.
Jones is an honor-roll student enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes. She also plays soccer for St. Charles and loves to learn about science. She is considering applying to college and wants to play college-level soccer and pursue learning about HVAC systems. Jones is currently looking for internships and studying for her HVAC certification exams.
According to Young, his students come to class prepared each day and are mature learners. He provides them with classroom experiences, but also with on-the-job training and internships. Young has been working with the HVAC program since 1997 and has seen many success stories of young adults joining the workforce to do something they love. He also connects the classroom to the world of work by inviting former students as guest speakers to share their experiences with his classes.
Jones said for her, meeting HVAC graduates was an eye-opening experience. “I enjoyed meeting others who have gone through what I went through and came back in to talk to us about what they do now,” she said.
Of the 14 HVAC seniors set to graduate this week, eight have passed the Universal CFC refrigerant course and four have completed the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) Core exam and HVAC Level I training. Other HVAC graduates have completed different levels of core requirements and were named student of the month this year by Young. Three graduates are already working for local HVAC companies, two students have enlisted in the military, eight are working and researching HVAC positions and one student has chosen to attend college on an academic scholarship.
Charles County Public Schools provides 27,108 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Kathy Kiessling, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.