New Galesburg High School vocational center aligns with local labor needs

Jane Carlson
Galesburg Register-Mail

GALESBURG — Inside the new location of the Galesburg Area Vocational Center, some students peer under the hood of a car, check air filters and tinker with engines.

Others feed sheets of metal into a plasma cutter after learning to work the controls. 

In one classroom, where students are becoming Certified Nursing Assistants, medical beds are lined up against a wall next to the desks for the clinical portions of the coursework. 

In another, students fly drones and and experiment with augmented reality glasses as they prepare to build their own apps and learn how augmented and virtual realties can be effective tools in the working world.

The Galesburg Area Vocational Center, now located at 940 W. Fremont St., not only has a new space and modern amenities — it has an enhanced focus on working more intently to meet the community’s workforce needs. 

The GVAC also has a new full-time director, Jeff Houston, who most recently worked as principal of Galesburg High School. 

Houston — who has deep ties to the area’s manufacturing history — said GVAC is partnering with local businesses and workforce development officials to improve the quality and relevance of the programs offered.

Galesburg Area Vocational Center instructor Jeff Gardner demonstrates a technique to a group of students, including GHS junior Jultanie Baleta, rigt, in the garage area of the GAVC's new location at 940 W. Fremont St. on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.

The programs help students gain knowledge, experience, employability and industry-recognized credentials while still in high school — and in turn the GAVC helps supply the skilled workers the community and local labor force need. 

“Most of our program addresses the shortfalls in our immediate area,” Houston said. 

More:Galesburg labor force shrinks faster than population

GAVC recently worked with the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development on a needs assessment for the region, Houston said. 

As those shortfalls in the labor force are increasingly apparent locally and nationally, funding opportunities for vocational education are growing at the state and federal levels, too.

Grants are helping the GVAC outfit the laboratories and classrooms with the most up-to-date equipment, Houston said. 

“We are seeing a real push to bring the vocational side of things into the schools,” Houston said.

In addition to courses on automotive technology, welding, machining and building trades, GAVC offers programs in culinary preparation, health occupations, law enforcement, fire science and teacher preparation as well. 

Each classroom has a lab that connects the student’s knowledge to the hands-on skills they will need in the workforce. 

“We are trying to connect the dots between school and work,” Houston said. “Moving in here has brought more relevancy to learning. The students are really enjoying the new space.”

Formerly housed at Galesburg High School, the new GVAC opened this fall just down the street in a building recently acquired by Galesburg District 205 that will also eventually house its Bright Futures preschool program. 

The GVAC has been around for decades, providing career and technical education to not only students from Galesburg High School, but area high schools, too. 

Galesburg High School junior Alejandro Ceja, 16, inspects his project on a CNC machine during Lonny Miller's Engineering class at the Galesburg Area Vocational Center's new location at 940 W. Fremont St. on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.

Currently students from Galesburg, Abingdon-Avon, Knoxville, Monmouth-Roseville, ROWVA, United and West Central high schools are eligible to participate. 

With the new facility, new full-time director and new focus, there is hope that it will grow. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment in GAVC was nearly 300 students, including younger students in orientation classes and older students in hands-on curriculum. 

That’s fallen off a little — around 275 students are currently enrolled — but they hope to get it back up. 

“It’s a real mission to get kids into our space,” Houston said.

Houston said the vocational programs are a “great opportunity for a young person to gain greater financial security” for the future.

GAVC offers certification programs along with dual credit coursework in conjunction with area community colleges. 

The programs are successful at getting students on a path. 

Of the 290 students enrolled in the 2020-2021 academic year, 66 earned dual college credit at Sandburg and 13 from Illinois Central College, 38 became Certified Nursing Assistants — and 84 continued into a Career and Technical Education field following graduation.  

An open house at the Galesburg Area Vocational Center, 940 W. Fremont St., will be from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, Oct. 14. 

There will be a short program at 10 a.m. 

More information about the Galesburg Area Vocational Center is online at: www.