This is a carousel. Use Next and Previous buttons to navigate
Beto O'Rourke speaks with the instructor of collision repair and refinishing program at Memorial High School. Photo taken March 9, 2022. Olivia Malick/The Enterprise
Beto O'Rourke, left, Port Arthur Mayor Thurman "Bill" Bartie and Career and Technology Educational Director Kevin Johnson walk through the halls of Memorial High School. Photo taken March 9, 2022. Olivia Malick/The Enterprise
Beto O'Rourke speaks to the press, along with Beaumont Mayor Robin Mouton and Port Arthur Mayor Thurman "Bill" Bartie at Memorial High School. Photo taken March 9, 2022. Olivia Malick/The Enterprise
Beto O'Rourke speaks to health science technology student Maria Ortiz at Memorial High School. Photo taken March 9, 2022. Olivia Malick/The Enterprise
Beto O'Rourke speaks with Port Arthur ISD Superintendent Mark Porterie at Memorial High School. Photo taken March 9, 2022. Olivia Malick/The Enterprise
Career and Technology Educational Director Kevin Johnson gives a health science technology student a fist bump after her presentation to Beto O'Rourke at Memorial High School. Photo taken March 9, 2022. Olivia Malick/The Enterprise
Beto O'Rourke speaks with construction technology student Jose, who serves as his class foreman at Memorial High School. Photo taken March 9, 2022. Olivia Malick/The Enterprise
Welding instructor Vandie Smith shows Beto O'Rourke pictures of what his students built for the Houston Rodeo at Memorial High School. Photo taken March 9, 2022. Olivia Malick/The Enterprise
Some Port Arthur Memorial High School students can graduate with industry-specific certifications, allowing them to jump right into the workforce upon graduation or giving them an advantage in college programs.
In fact, the district is a leader in Career and Technical Education, which brought Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke to Port Arthur on Wednesday to learn more about the school's 13 programs.
Four of these programs -- health science technology, construction technology, welding and collision repair and refinishing -- were highlighted during his walk through.
Joined by Principal Melissa Oliva, Career and Technology Educational Director Kevin Johnson and Port Arthur Mayor Thurman "Bill" Bartie, among others, O'Rourke spoke with students about the impact of technical education opportunities on their lives.
Maria Ortiz, a student in the health science technology program, shared how it had given her an opportunity to pursue her passion of helping people.
RELATED: Evans empowers students through the love of cooking
The health science technology program gives students a chance to earn a certificate to become a Certified Nurse Assistant. They can then enter the workforce or continue on a path toward college, which Ortiz said she plans to do.
In addition to discussing the importance of technical education, O'Rourke stressed the need for people, particularly young people, to come or return to Port Arthur and begin their careers.
"The fact that Port Arthur is investing in your education and your ability to compete for these kinds of jobs and do them here is really exciting," O'Rourke said. "It's Port Arthur solving Port Arthur's challenges."
From there, O'Rourke visited the construction technology program, where the goal is to prepare students to earn a National Center for Construction Education and Research certification that allows them to go directly into industry at any NCCER participant companies, even those outside of Texas.
He spoke to Jose, the shop's foreman, who oversees the safety of his classmates.
"I've got to make sure everyone has their (Personal Protection Equipment) on -- gloves when handling wood, goggles, eye protection," Jose said. "At the end of the day, I just go around noting people on how they did."
RELATED: Paul Brown Center gets program redesign
The program's instructor said that students must check out equipment through Jose, giving him leadership experience.
Outside of Memorial's CATE, training like this would cost around $2,500, Johnson said. But through the program, students can earn their certification for free.
O'Rourke noted that students are being prepared for jobs that exist within Southeast Texas, so they don't have to leave the area to find them.
"We've already had representatives from the refineries come in and speak with (the students) about those opportunities that are right there," said the construction technology instructor. "We want everyone to go to college, but college isn't for everyone. This gives them that opportunity to have that same leg up when they leave here, they're ready to go to work."
Next, O'Rourke visited the welding program, where he spoke with senior John Pitre, who was working on a barbecue pit.
The welding program is a dual-credit class through Lamar State College-Port Arthur. After graduation, Pitre can continue his education for another year at LSCPA and earn his degree.
RELATED: New leader in technical studies comes to Lamar Orange
Welding instructor Vandie Smith said some students have been hired right out of school making $15 an hour -- about double the state's minimum wage.
"It depends of the level of welding," he said. "We do stick welding, we do mig and tig welding. A guy doing tig welding can earn up to $40 to $50 (an hour) starting out."
Before COVID, students could sign with companies visiting the school.
"They hired upon graduations," he said. "They can get the NCCER and they can walk into almost any plant because I'm teaching them all the basics of working in a plant."
Smith said his program can have up to 16 students, but he often has stacks of students wanting to join the program, making it more competitive.
"I kind of weed them out with the grades and conduct in other classes," he said. "I treat (this class) as a job site."
RELATED: Beto came back to Beaumont. Here's what he had to say.
At the collision repair and refinishing program on Wednesday, students were practicing their airbrush paint skills with water.
"Once they get the hang of it, it will take about a week, they will get to use actual paint," the instructor said. "Right now, they're learning the technique on how to hold the gun; have the proper distance; how to grab the hose."
Students in this program have the opportunity to earn an I-CAR certification, which allows them to work in a shop upon graduation.
The instructor himself is a product of the program.
"I graduated in 1997, and I took this class, and I didn't know what I was going to do with my life," he said. "I knew it wasn't college. It wasn't for me, I'm a hands-on person."
RELATED: Port Arthur ISD exhibit teaches students various sectors of Black history
O'Rourke said what Port Arthur offers its students is the leading edge in public education in Texas unlike those offered in other areas of the state.
"What I see right here in Port Arthur is leadership and innovation that meets the challenge," he said. "We're not waiting on anybody else to save the day, no one's relying on a handout. You've got hardworking students and extraordinary educators."
O'Rourke said it is important for schools to prepare students for the workforce and college.
"What we've got to do is have a balance," Bartie said. "I want us to have a balance in our community -- (for there to be) jobs in industry as well jobs in academia, and our students will be able to return home and our economy will be able to take care of them."
Olivia Malick is the education reporter for The Beaumont Enterprise.