CASTLEFORD — Castleford teenager Keegan Myers started learning to weld in junior high school and now wants to pursue it as a career.

He’s already getting a head start.

The 18-year-old Castleford High School senior spends his mornings taking high school classes and afternoons in the College of Southern Idaho’s welding program in Twin Falls.

“I like it,” Myers said. “I think it’s a pretty well put together program. It’s supposed to be one of the best around here.”

By the time the school year ends in May, he’ll have a basic technical certificate from CSI. He plans to continue in the program next school year to earn an associate degree.

Myers is among three high school seniors in CSI’s new Expanded Technical Dual Credit program, which launched this fall.

It allows students to earn a technical certificate or start along that path by the time they graduate from high school. There are four program options: autobody technology, welding technology, drafting technology or food processing technology.

It’s among a few new initiatives CSI is pursuing to help high schoolers accelerate their education. The college is adapting to a changing student body, with high schoolers making up nearly half of its total enrollment.

Some of CSI’s technical programs aren’t full and the college’s overall enrollment has dropped following the economic recession, but there’s a big need among Magic Valley employers for skilled workers.

“Statewide, there’s a need for more students to be in CTE field,” said Melissa Chantry, CSI’s career and technical education coordinator. “There’s a variety of initiatives going on to promote that.”

CSI’s program gives high schoolers, particularly in rural areas, the opportunity to come to the CSI campus, Chantry said. They’re enrolled in dual credit classes, meaning they’re earning high school and college credits simultaneously.

But unlike most dual credit classes — which are taught by high school instructors on high school campuses — students spend half their school day at CSI’s campus.

This semester, two high schoolers are in CSI’s welding program and one is in autobody technology.

CSI is looking to potentially add a couple more program options for high schoolers, depending on interest and funding levels, Chantry said.

The college also wants to boost the number of participating students to 15-20 among the four programs and eventually expand from there.

“Once more interest is generated, we may be able to open up sections reserved for high school students,” Chantry said.

Interested high schoolers must meet with their school counselor to get a letter of recommendation and look at their progress toward high school graduation.

Through the Expanded Technical Dual Credit program, high schoolers can typically finish a basic technical certificate in one year. The exception is drafting, which offers an intermediate technical certificate, and requires more time to finish.

After that, students they can either go into the workforce or continue on to earn an associate degree from CSI.

Myers said his mother saw a news story about the Expanded Technical Dual Credit program and told him about it.

“I applied for it because I was thinking about pursuing my career in welding after high school,” he said.

Myers went through a phone interview with CSI and received an email over the summer saying he’d been accepted.

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Myers takes English, math and physical education classes each morning at Castleford High. Around lunchtime, he drives to Twin Falls to attend CSI’s welding class from 1-4:50 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Earlier in his high school years, Myers took the welding classes offered in Castleford. He also participated in welding competitions last school year, including at Idaho State University and in Buhl through FFA.

That has helped him at CSI.

“I think coming into the program with welding abilities before makes it a lot easier,” he said, adding the lessons were “pretty basic in the beginning.”

To pay for classes, high schoolers use money through the Idaho State Department of Education’s Advanced Opportunities program. Each public school student has $4,125 available to use from seventh through 12th grades.

It covers $75 of the $130 per credit fee at CSI for the Expanded Technical Dual Credit program. The remaining tuition money is bundled with the cost of tools and equipment, and families are responsible for paying half of that.

CSI is also trying out another new program for high schoolers this fall, the Dual Credit General Education Academy. It allows students from Magic Valley high schools to earn 40 college credits over two years.

For this year’s high school juniors, applications are due in April or early May for next school year. This summer, instructors will choose the next cohort of students.

As for Myers’ career options, he’s interested in possibly starting a mobile welding business or working for a local welding shop.

He said he’ll likely stay in the Magic Valley, but there are welding opportunities he’d consider elsewhere, such as for Nevada mines or North Dakota oilfields.

For now, he said he’s gaining a lot of knowledge through CSI’s welding program. And that will help him prepare for his next step.

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