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Appalachian Veterans: Our History, Their Story

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The following is a guest blog post by Tea McCaulla, an English instructor at Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology Center (PRCTC) in Ohio. Each year, she incorporates the Veterans History Project (VHP) into her classroom curriculum, and her students reap the benefits of experiential learning. This year, they received state-wide recognition.

Earlier this month, four students from Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology Center were selected to participate in the 2017 Ohio Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Student Showcase at the Capitol Atrium in the Statehouse in Columbus. There were 98 students and 47 instructors from 23 schools, showcasing 29 different programs. A special guest, Chester Collins, a WWII Navy veteran, was also in attendance.

The ACTE holds the event biannually, and the invitation is through a competitive process. The student showcase provides opportunities for students from career centers across Ohio to meet with senators and representatives to discuss what they are learning in their career and technical programs, and how it will benefit their chosen career paths. Several legislators attended, including Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor.

Group of seven people (four students, three adults) posing for photo with materials on table.
Pictured from left: Emma Bretz, a junior; Collin Smith, a senior; Taryn Austin, a senior; Christine Gardner, Ohio ACTE Executive Director; Speaker of the House, Cliff Rosenberger; Chester Collins, WWII Navy veteran, Caitlin Holdren, a junior at PRCTC.

Students from PRCTC showcased how they are working together to help preserve the oral histories of our Appalachian veterans and the skills they have mastered along the way. As a special guest, Chester Collins spoke to visitors about his experience. Taryn Austin’s VHP interview of Mr. Collins also helped him to achieve his lifelong dream of publishing a book about his time in the Navy. The book, “Life of a Sailor,” is composed of letters written to and from his family during WWII, and was written with the help of Steven Denomme, co-author.  Although Taryn’s career path is in cosmetology, the interview has sparked in her a passion for history, and has even led to a volunteer position at the Ross County Historical Museum.

Representatives from PRCTC had the opportunity to discuss how essential skills such as communication, writing, teamwork, planning, and organizational skills help them to not only be successful in enabling our veterans to share firsthand accounts of their experiences, but also how these skills will transfer to the students’ prospective careers. Another attribute that students gain is valuable experience in technology literacy; and they can strengthen professional development skills.

Caitlin Holdren, a junior in the Early Childhood Education Program at PRCTC, interviewed her grandfather, Darrell Robinson, who served with the U.S. Coast Guard during Vietnam. Currently, Mr. Robinson is living in Florida. Caitlin didn’t let this stop her. It was important to her that she help share her grandfather’s story. After teaching her grandfather how to use SKYPE, she interviewed her grandfather in front of her classmates so that they, too, could learn how to conduct an interview. Personal responsibility, adaptability, and problem solving were essential skills needed for this successful project.

Another student, Collin Smith, a senior in the Interactive Digital Arts Program, used skills learned in his program to help students set up and prepare for videoing. He had the opportunity to record, edit, and create a DVD for the RCCE Veteran’s Day recognition program in Chillicothe in which Taryn Austin had been asked to present about VHP and to give special acknowledgement to Mr. Collins.

Although students are enrolled in various career and technical programs and represent several student organizations, such as SkillsUSA; Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA); and Business Professionals of America (BPA), these students have the opportunity to work together to participate in the Veterans History Project in their English class.

Contemporary photo of nine people seated and standing around table and smiling.
Pictured from left: Donna Patrick, PRCTC Cosmetology Instructor; Chester Collins; Taryn Austin; Collin Smith; Emma Bretz; Tea McCaulla, PRCTC English Instructor; Susan Schwalbauch, Academic Specialist; Evan Webb, Executive Assistant to Speaker Rosenberger; and in front, Caitlin Holdren.

Student success would not be possible without the support of teachers and administrators at PRCTC, especially Shara Cochenour, Principal; Susan Schwalbauch, Academic Specialist; and Donna Patrick, Cosmetology Instructor, who were also in attendance at the ACTE Student Showcase.

For more information on the great work that Pickaway-Ross Career & Technology students are doing, visit

[Author’s note: An image and interview reference were removed from this post at the author’s request.]

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