During his first visit to the Franklin Technology Center and Joplin High School, it didn’t take Missouri Gov. Mike Parson long Thursday afternoon to say he appreciated what he was seeing.
He was overhead making the comment to high school student Wyatt Hensley as they left behind the welding lab to make their way deeper into the sprawling, three-story complex. Hensley, a senior, and fellow senior Amy Riechman-Bennett, were chosen to lead Parson on a 60-minute tour of their school.
Moving from classroom to classroom, up and down stairwells, Parson interacted with at least 50 students during the stop, which was part of his workforce development tour of Southwest Missouri this week. The governor also visited the Crowder College Training Center on Grand Avenue in Joplin and Eugene Field Elementary School in Webb City.
During a brief speech at the high school, he again commented how impressed he was by the visit.
“I’m telling you what — my gosh, I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “I’ve been to a lot of schools … but I’m telling you, I haven’t been in one any better than this one.”
The skills being taught are exactly what he wants to see as he continues to place education first throughout Missouri, he said.
“Education is something I do really believe in; there are 70% of people in the state of Missouri who do not have degrees,” he said. Focusing on the students listening to him in the audience, “the skills that you are being taught right here in this school system, for some of you, will be the best training you’ll ever have to get you prepared for the workforce tomorrow.
“You guys are getting one heck of an education here.”
When he said that his administration has made the largest investment in Missouri state history when it comes to workforce development and training centers, the room responded with applause. To that end, he has called for the Missouri Fast Track program to be permanently established, $31 million for colleges and universities through MO Excels, and $20 million for the state’s 57 career centers, according to The Associated Press.
“I’m going to give you every opportunity to go out there and get a job,” he told the students during his speech, and “make sure each school gets the opportunity to expand, to build classrooms, to hire teachers — all the things they need to do.
“I want you to know that you have a home in Missouri. I’m going to make sure you have a job to come home to.”
During the tour, Parson watched intently as Brayden Anderson and Aiden Weeks went about their work at Franklin Technology Center’s HVAC installation and repair training. He asked them how long they’d been in the program and why they liked what they were learning, and noted he was there to help them find permanent jobs once they joined the workforce.
In another classroom, Parson watched as students practiced slipping on personal protective equipment, performing the Heimlich maneuver and giving one another blood pressure checks.
Parson spoke to the gathered students about his quintuple bypass heart surgery from 2017 and how nurses no older than the students in the classroom surprised him by helping him rise out of bed just hours after the procedure. He gained a new respect and appreciation for nurses and what they do on a day-to-day basis.
“The demand out there is just crazy right now,” he said. “Missouri is 400 nurses short right now; we can’t train them fast enough. So for all of you who are here, and this is the field you want to get into, there’s an opportunity out there right now for you.”
After shaking Laramy Wald’s hand and seeing a global display that cited Franklin Technology Center ninth in the nation in a SkillsUSA competition, he stopped to grab some decaffeinated coffee from JoJoe’s Coffee Shop. Speaking to the students for a few minutes about their small business, he learned they pull in about $500 a day, and his eyes grew large.
“I’m in the wrong business,” he said.
Hensley, who introduced Gov. Parson before his speech, said afterward that the experience was enjoyable.
“It was really cool,” the senior said. “I mean, it’s the governor of Missouri inside your school — you don’t get that every day.”
“I thought I would never do anything like this,” added Riechman-Bennett, who wants to get into politics or law after graduation. “It felt like I was talking to a family member, honestly,” she said of Parson. “It was so natural.”
While Hensley wants to become a history teacher, he said the leadership and communication skills he’s learned at Franklin Technology Center and Joplin High School will only make him a better person down the road.
“I know a lot of of us take (their school) for granted — I’m a part of that — but we’re so fortunate to have Franklin Technology Center here,” he said.