Virginia Beach Technical and Career Education Center faculty members recently gathered to talk about what brought them back as teachers. Pictured, from left, are Will Beaton, Joanna Marhalik, Daniel Ramos, Jimmy Bruce, Caretta Galloway, Charlie McDaniel and Tony Wilson. Not pictured, Joe Santos.
–by David Schleck
“It’s awesome having folks come back home,” says David Swanger, director of the Virginia Beach Technical and Career Education Center.
Students who have launched successful careers after studying at the center are returning to teach the next generation in the skilled trades.
At least eight current instructors once studied in the program, including two that started teaching at the center this year. The school opened in 1972 to provide career-training opportunities for students in grades 11 and 12. Students participate in 23 credentialed programs for two and half hours a day in addition to taking classes at their high schools.
Back when they were students
Charlie McDaniel, who attended the Tech Center 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, explained 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.”
“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 Wollard, asking him to consider the program.
“I assumed I would be teaching one of these days,” said Ramos. “My family encouraged me even more.”
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 careers, but he prefers teaching teenagers who are interested in the field.
What they want their students to know
McDaniel teaches his students to take pride in their workmanship. “This is a career, not a job,” he said.
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 is 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.”
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.”
Swanger, who has directed the center for 17 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.”