Take a look at the new Robstown ISD Welding Lab

ROBSTOWN. Juliana Sanchez accidentally tried welding. A year later, the Robstown Early College High School senior plans to continue welding after graduating from high school.

According to her, she enjoys the hard work of joining metal; she likes to sweat in the cabin.

Sanchez is among several dozen students excited about the school’s new welding lab after having to travel to Del Mar College for classes.

“We finally have our own space here in high school,” Sanchez said. “It gives us more time to weld because we don’t have to drive all the way to Campus West (Del Mar College).”

Reducing that travel time allows students to take advantage of more opportunities on their home campus, said Robstown ISD Superintendent Jose Moreno.

A large crowd of students and community members gathered on Tuesday morning to celebrate the opening of the welding lab before students began their first spring semester class at the space, which was completed last month.

Robstown Early College high school student Marissa Aguilar, 16, inspects a kiosk in a new welding classroom on Tuesday, January 17, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.

A new welding lab with 32 compartments, new equipment, a classroom, and two locker rooms costs about $1 million. The laboratory was once a car shop.

A $320,000 grant from the Texas Workforce Commission covered some of the costs, and the county covered other costs from its own budget.

Moreno said the district does not have the financial means to obtain bail — a method that elementary school districts use to secure funding for major improvements — but the district has been working to find other ways to improve student learning.

The Robstown Early College High School Mariachi Band watches Superintendent Jose Moreno perform during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new welding class on Tuesday, January 17, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.

“To move forward, the school system needs to be resourceful,” Moreno said. “Being resourceful, we along with our board of trustees, their leadership and their vision determined that we could set a goal together to be able to create and use our facilities to the fullest extent possible.”

The laboratory includes two wheelchair accessible welding bays.

“We never want a kid to shirk,” Moreno said.

Robstown Early College High School students Oscar Vasquez, 18, and Marissa Aguilar, 16, look at oxygen and propene tanks in a new welding class on Tuesday, January 17, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.

Moreno said the county also recently converted a storage facility into a veterinary laboratory.

Current students have the opportunity to earn a Level I Welding Certificate. In the future, the district hopes to prepare students for Level II certification.

“We all know the importance of vocational and technical education,” said CTE Deputy Director and Coordinator Benito Portillo. “It gives our students what they need to succeed in the workplace after graduation.”

Portillo said interest in welding is growing. Last year, 26 students participated in welding. This year, 49 students are enrolled in the welding program.

Equipment on a table in Robstown Early College's new high school welding classroom on Tuesday, January 17, 2023 in Robstown, Texas.

In the fall, Banquete ISD and Calallen ISD students will also have the opportunity to sign up for classes at the lab. Both schools currently have welding programs that send students to Del Mar College and the Coastal Bend Craft Training Center.

But ISD in Robstown is closer and more convenient for some students, said Banquete High School Principal Elsa Hofstetter and ISD Kalallen Superintendent Emily Lorenz.

“This is a great opportunity to be able to partner with our neighbors to provide opportunities for our students,” said Lorenz.

Robstown Early College High School alumnus Karina Camacho, along with other mariachi band members, watches the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new welding class on Tuesday, January 17, 2023, in Robstown, Texas.

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