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Wilkins School reopens as Victoria College craft training center

By FROM NEWS RELEASE
Sept. 4, 2010 at 4:04 a.m.

Students attend the first day of classes at Victoria College's pipefitting school at the former Wilkins School.

Helping with the project were:City of Port Lavaca

Calhoun County

Calhoun County school district

Victoria College

AEP

Zachry

Turner Industries

INEOS

Dow

Formosa

Airgas-Southwest

Alice Ora Wilkins story In the early 1900s when schools were segregated, the original Port Lavaca Negro School was built, enrolling less than 30 students who were taught by James Choice from Prairie View. Choice was succeeded by the Rev. A.K. Black of Austin, who had come to Port Lavaca to serve as pastor at the Baptist Church.

Eventually, Black saw that serving as the head of the school and as a pastor was more than a one-person job. Wilkins, who came to Port Lavaca from Chicago in 1907, was hired by Calhoun County as a teacher in the segregated school. She was later promoted to principal.

In 1910, when the first class graduated in May, Wilkins' courage and dedication began to earn her a reputation as an inspirational leader who encouraged excellence from her students. It was her influence that helped the school expand to include higher grade levels and more students each year.

After the original one-room building burned down and the school was forced to relocate into two small houses on the waterfront, it was Wilkins who was responsible for rebuilding the school at the corner of Ann and Chestnut streets in 1923. The new, three-room school building, originally called the Rosenwald School, continued to provide a place to educate the segregated African-American children in Port Lavaca until desegregation in 1965.

PORT LAVACA - Alice Ora Wilkins played an important role in shaping Calhoun County's first black school.

But she probably never dreamed that the school she helped build, renamed the Wilkins School in 1937, would continue to serve as an educational resource for the community today.

Recently, several community partners renovated the unused space and put it back into service, providing a place to conduct specialized craft training classes that address employment needs in the area.

It all began with a coalition of interested community partners, starting with the school district and local industry, looking for solutions to address the need for specialized craft training.

"Our local industry sometimes has a difficult time finding craftsmen with the proper training and certification," said Calhoun County Judge Mike Pfeifer.

Led by Ron Flournoy, this career and technical coalition, which later grew to include the city, county and the college, looked at what kind of pre-employment training was necessary to prepare workers for employment in area industries. After the appropriate curriculum was agreed upon, the coalition then considered how to develop and implement both an interim and a long-term equipment training facility in Port Lavaca.

"When the Victoria College Calhoun County Center first opened and we saw how fast enrollment increased for this kind of training, we were astonished," Pfeifer said. "We knew then that we needed a trade academy in town."

The community coalition then brought together a number of community partners who volunteered resources to the project.

"This coalition has been a true community partnership - no one entity could have accomplished all this alone," said Laurie Harvey, campus manager at the VC Calhoun County Center. "By combining a little bit of resources and materials from each community partner, this project has been realized to benefit this community.

"It is also a tremendous way to honor the original vision that one extraordinary woman had, to provide educational access to all of Calhoun County."

Pipefitting, the first craft training class in the new Wilkins facility, began in August.

"We are currently working with the coalition to procure equipment that will enable us to offer millwright training at this new facility," said Sherri Pall, VC's continuing education business operations manager.

The school's other craft training classes, such as electrical and HVAC, will still be held at the VC Calhoun County Center. Welding classes will still be at the Calhoun High School.

"VC is always ready to partner with area industry and the communities we serve so that we can continue to provide the most relevant workforce training," said Tom Butler, college president. "Specialized training helps strengthen the local economy by providing education that helps workers get the right training so that local industry gets the skilled workers they need."

"It is especially an honor to be part of the long tradition of quality education that has taken place in the Wilkins School," Butler said.

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