School officials and community leaders cut ribbons Friday to celebrate the completion of The Behrouz and Christiane Rassekh Foundation TradeWorks Academy Learning Facilities at Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln High Schools and thank donors.
The trades areas at both high schools were remodeled and outfitted with updated equipment for the expansion of career-technical education and the new TradeWorks program, said Corey Vorthmann, chief academic officer for the Council Bluffs Community School District.
“Pretty much everything is brand new and updated and ready for the 21st Century,” he said.
The academy offers instruction and hands-on activities in construction, plumbing and HVAC/refrigeration, electrical systems, fabrication and welding and automotive, diesel and small engine technology. The program allows high school students to learn about skilled trades as freshmen and sophomores and pursue college-level credentials at Iowa Western Community College as juniors and seniors.
Students are excited about the program, Vorthmann said. About 380 have signed up for TradeWorks Academy classes.
“Our (TradeWorks) classes are full,” Thomas Jefferson Principal Dania Freudenburg said. “Part of that is the facility, and we have amazing teachers down here.”
“We’re pretty excited about the interest of the students and the opportunities they will have” to continue their studies at Iowa Western while still in high school, Superintendent Vickie Murillo said. “This is one more way for us to provide opportunities for our students here at Council Bluffs Schools.”
Murillo thanked Dr. Behrouz and Christiane Rassekh for providing the lead gift for the project.
“They believed, and they began to give us hope that this would become a reality someday,” she said.
A trades program “has been dear to us for some time and would not have been realized if not for Dr. Murillo,” said Dr. Rassekh, a retired neurosurgeon. “Kids need options besides college so they can choose what they want to do. It would not have been possible without a lot of hard work by Dr. Murillo and her staff and the foundation. We would like to thank everybody who helped to finish this project.”
Pete Tulipana, president and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation, another sponsor, also complimented Murillo.
“It takes vision, it takes leadership to make things happen – and it was your vision and leadership that made it happen,” he said. “We’re proud to be a part of it.”
Chris LaFerla, executive director of the Council Bluffs Schools Foundation, said he talked to a lot of business leaders about TradeWorks during that past year.
“I was really humbled to learn just how important a program like this is to people in our community,” he said. “Without the leadership of Dr. Rassekh, this just would not be possible.”
“As a supporter and employer of trades, this is a really cool thing,” said Brian Rasmussen of Rasmussen Mechanical Services, also a sponsor. “This isn’t your grandpa’s shop class anymore.”
CTE instructor Gregory Ratliff is new to the school district this year but has been teaching classes in trades for 32 years.
“I’m really excited that Council Bluffs has made it a significant part of their educational opportunities,” Ratliff said. “Some schools are cutting these programs. I’m glad Council Bluffs Community Schools put me in a position where I can really make a difference to kids in the community.”
Junior Santiago, a senior at T.J., is taking an introductory TradeWorks class and enjoying it.
“You’re getting a little bit of everything so you can find out what you’re interested in,” he said.
Emma Myers, a junior, wants to be a welder like her dad.
“He’s been a welder for 47 years, so I wanted to learn what he does,” she said.
“There is high demand for trade skills that are going to be learned here today,” said Dan Harbeke, head of public policy and external affairs at Google, another sponsor. “It’s one thing to believe in our students, it’s another thing to provide them with the tools to succeed — and we’re proud to be a part of it.”
It used to be that a lot of students who weren’t interested in going to college dropped out of school, said Dr. Ted Hoff, retired ophthalmologist. He and his wife, Polly, were among the sponsors.
“I think with the TradeWorks Academy, we have multiple options (for students),” he said. “We should have no one drop out from school, because we have something there for everyone –and if they follow through with the program, they will become good citizens.”
City Councilwoman Sharon White, who represented Mayor Matt Walsh at the event, said the training the academy will provide will help keep young people in the community “to live, work and raise a family.”
“What you’ve invested in is going to go way into the future,” she told donors. “These partnerships — these public-private partnerships — are what make Council Bluffs a strong community.”
Tom Hanafan, interim CEO of the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce, said the most important thing was “we as a community have come together to make a difference” and, as a result, the students trained at the academy will make a difference.
There will be 5,900 jobs to fill in the community over the next 10 years, Hanafan said.
“We used to say, ‘build it, and they will come,’” he said. “I think we’ve changed that to ‘build them, and they will stay — and businesses will come.’”
“It’s amazing what can happen when the community gathers around a learning project and makes things happen,” commented David Coziahr, president of the Council Bluffs Community School District Board of Education and owner of Coziahr Heating and Air Conditioning, one of the sponsors.
Before the ribbon cutting at Thomas Jefferson, representatives from MidAmerican Energy Co. presented school officials with a check for $100,000.
LaFerla said he was “absolutely thrilled” with the donation.
“The support from MidAmerican Energy of what we’re doing is outstanding,” he said.
“We’re just humbled that they saw the value of this program and the opportunities it’s going to provide for our students here in the Council Bluffs Schools,” Murillo said.
“They’ve been a fantastic partner,” Coziahr said.
Other project supporters included Lozier Corp., the Southwest Iowa Foundation, Woodhouse Auto Family, Owen Industries, Union Pacific Railroad Foundation and the Aksarben Foundation. Donors who attended were given metal donor plaques made at T.J.