Nearly 40,000 VBCPS 11th and 12th grade students have taken advantage of the career-training opportunities available through Tech Center programs since the school opened its doors in September 1972.
To celebrate 50 years of “Tech-cellence,” the Tech Center will host an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, for all students and staff both past and present. Guests will have the opportunity to walk the halls, visit old classrooms or workstations, catch up with old friends and colleagues, and meet current staff and students of the Virginia Beach Technical and Career Education Center. Please call 757-648-5850 for more information.
Students launch successful careers after studying at the center and many are returning to teach the next generation in the skilled trades. At least eight current instructors were Tech Center students.
“It’s awesome having folks come back home,” says Tech Center Director David Swanger.
Charlie McDaniel, a member of the Tech Center’s first graduating class in the early 1970s, said his masonry teacher, Herbert Smith, was a great motivator whose slogan was, “If you have a trade, you have it made.”
Auto body instructor Tony Wilson remembers his teacher, Henry Robinson, telling him, “You’re going to be someone.”
Students get to travel across the state and the country to attend conferences and test their skills against other young talent, said plumbing teacher Will Beaton, who trained at the Tech Center 20 years ago.
“I loved my time here,” said cosmetology instructor Joanna Marhalik. “It helped me get through high school.”
Why they returned
Joe Santos started teaching at the Tech Center in 2016, more than 30 years after he learned welding in the program.
“A friend who worked here at the center reached out to me,” Santos said. “I thought about it for six months, and I love the decision I made.”
HVAC instructor Daniel Ramos received a call from his former Tech Center teacher, Melvin Woolard, asking him to consider the program.
“I assumed I would be teaching one of these days,” said Ramos. “My family encouraged me even more.”
Tony Wilson said he had a special kind of recruiter.
“This profession picked me,” he said. “It’s what God picked me to do in my life.”
Auto service instructor Jimmy Bruce said he taught adults during his career, but he prefers teaching teenagers who are interested in the field.
Charlie McDaniel teaches his students to take pride in their workmanship. “This is a career, not a job,” he said.
Joanna Marhalik wants students to know they have to work for what they want. “No one is going to hand it to them,” she said.
Caretta Galloway said she wants to make sure her cosmetology students know there’s more to it than trying to copy what they see in YouTube videos.
“There is a difference between a hair stylist and a cosmetologist,” she said. “I believe with teaching the true art and benefit of cosmetology, it will help the younger generation gain more of an appreciation for the art.”
The skilled trades are in extremely high demand, said Ramos, who was Virginia Beach’s 2021 Citywide Teacher of the Year. “The wages are going higher and higher,” he said. “If you want to get paid, this is the place to be.”
Joe Santos wants students to leave the program with confidence, knowing they have skills that make them easily hirable.
“I tell my students all the time that if the powers that be came in and told me I could no longer do this, I would pick up the phone and be working the next day,” he said. “I want to give them that sense of security.”
David Swanger, who has directed the center for nearly 19 years, said, “The dedication of the students, faculty and staff is a winning combination.”
“There’s something special about this place – where people go into the workforce and become highly successful at what they do, and then they return here, “ he said. “That tells you they loved this place as a student.”