WASHINGTON — Maryland schools are gearing up for potential Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds.
Mohammed Choudhury, Maryland state superintendent of schools, told Capital News Service in an email that the vaccine is the best defense against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The expansion of vaccine administration to younger children will help prevent school outbreaks, reduce the numbers of students and staff in quarantine, and continue to keep students and staff in classrooms for full-time in-person learning,” he said.
“Baltimore County Public Schools will be thrilled when vaccines are authorized and available for all students,” spokesman Charles Herndon told CNS. “They are the best way of keeping children and staff in our schools safe and COVID-free.”
Pfizer and BioNTech announced on September 20 that a smaller dose of their vaccine was safe and had “robust neutralizing antibody responses” among the 5- to 11-year-olds in their trial.
The FDA said Friday that it set a vaccines advisory committee for Oct. 26 in anticipation of Pfizer’s request for the vaccine’s authorization.
“We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the Delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla, said in a statement.
The weekly rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 children and adolescents was nearly five times higher in mid-August than in late June, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Milagritos D. Tapia, a pediatrics professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said the vaccine “will decrease transmission in schools, and would … decrease the opportunity for children to become severely ill or experience the (after effects) of COVID infections, which do occur in children.”
The Maryland Health Department recognizes vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds “would be an important peace of mind for parents,” agency spokesman Andrew Owen said in an email to CNS. He added that the department is working with local jurisdictions and school systems to prepare for the vaccine’s approval.
Dana Smith, a parent of an 11-year-old student at Arbutus Middle School in Baltimore County, described the start of the school year as “nerve-wracking with the local positivity rate being up and the community spread bouncing between substantial and high,” she told CNS via Facebook Messenger.
Smith said her heart skips a beat each time the school sends COVID-19 case notifications because she wonders if the students who contracted the virus were in any of her son’s classes.
“We are looking forward to the vaccine being approved for kids, and I plan to have my son vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said.
COVID-19 last month hit elementary schools in the Baltimore County Public Schools system harder than the high schools and middle schools. Nearly half of the 240 positive cases it reported from Sept. 10 to Sept. 17 were from elementary schools, according to the school system.
Two weeks later, from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1, the reported positive cases in Baltimore County’s schools weren’t much better. Out of the 214 reported infections, 104 were from elementary schools.
The Baltimore County Public Schools system is the third-largest in Maryland. Herndon said Baltimore County has a high level of COVID-19 community transmission under CDC criteria.
He said having the vaccine authorized for younger children would be a big step toward lowering the school system’s infection rates and making everyone safer.
Howard County Public School System Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano said he’s a very strong proponent of younger students being vaccinated, citing their vulnerability to the virus.
To keep students and staff safe, the school system engages in constant communication encouraging vaccinations, he said.
“Keeping this in front of everybody is absolutely critical as we try to maintain the health and well-being of our students and staff and keep schools open,” Martirano said. “That’s the main goal.”
The Howard County Health Department is working closely with county school officials to determine how to best provide COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds once authorization is given, Dr. Kelly Russo, the department’s medical director, said in an email.
School systems across Maryland are making similar preparations ahead of the FDA’s authorization.
The Anne Arundel County Public Schools system worked with the local health department during the summer to hold vaccination clinics for students and staff, spokesperson Bob Mosier said in an email.
Recently, they have been having conversations about the logistics of providing vaccination clinics if and when they become available for 5- to 11-year-olds, he said.
Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Theresa Alban said in an email that the school system and the local health department also are discussing options for offering vaccination clinics.
The Baltimore City Public Schools system told CNS in an email that once the vaccine is fully approved, it will continue its partnership with the local health department to ensure vaccines get to students.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told U.S. News & World Report that it “would be a game-changer” for elementary-aged students to be eligible for vaccinations.
The anticipated authorization of the vaccine for children comes amid a renewed push from some Maryland lawmakers to mandate vaccinations for public schools statewide.
“A requirement for students to be able to be vaccinated for Covid as they enter our schools is another tool we should be considering as a state,” state Sen. Clarence Lam, D-Howard and Baltimore counties, said in an interview with CNS.
Gov. Larry Hogan, R, rejected calls for implementing statewide mandates in a press conference on Sept. 30.
“Because we’ve done so many (vaccinations) we haven’t found the need for it,” he said.
California recently announced plans to institute a vaccine mandate in public schools once the FDA fully approves the vaccine for all school-age children, the first state in the country to do so.
Tapia said she recommends Maryland schools encourage families to vaccinate their 5- to 11-year-olds if the FDA authorizes the vaccine for them.
“I think that there will be concerns, just because there (are) always concerns,” Tapia said.
“But if they’re concerned, what they should be more concerned about is their risk of having an infection, and the outcomes of that infection for the child, rather than the risk of having side effects from the vaccines,” she said, referring to data from people aged 16-25 having worse reactions to COVID-19 than the vaccines.
“So it’s a safer bet to be vaccinated than to be infected with COVID,” Tapia said.
By BRITTANY N. GADDY
Capital News Service
(Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau reporter Alex Argiris contributed to this story.)
Governor Northam announces poultry processor to establish first east coast operation in Winchester
Governor Ralph Northam announced on December 2, 2021, that TFC Poultry LLC, a quality poultry producer, will invest $31.5 million to establish its second U.S. production facility in Winchester. The company will occupy the former Sunshine’s Pride Dairy facility, where it will specialize in deboning turkey thigh meat for sale to food manufacturers. TFC Poultry is also committing to purchase more than 100 million pounds of Virginia-grown turkey over the next four years.
Virginia successfully competed with West Virginia for the project, which will create 111 new jobs.
“Virginia’s strong agriculture sector continues to play a critical role in the success of our booming economy,” said Governor Northam. “We are pleased the company has chosen to establish its first East Coast facility right here in Virginia, and we look forward to all of its success in the future.”
TFC Poultry was founded in 2008 by brothers Darrin and Trent Froemming after they purchased and remodeled a local shuttered poultry plant in Ashby, Minnesota. The company uses specialized proprietary technology, along with x-ray and metal detection, for the safe and efficient deboning of turkey thighs. As the only third-party operation of its kind in the U.S., TFC Poultry has experienced increased demand for its products due to increased domestic demand for dark meat.
“Virginia’s ready access to key markets, favorable business climate, and skilled workforce are highly-attractive assets to agriculture companies like TFC Poultry,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “We thank TFC for its investment, and we are committed to supporting the company as it grows its East Coast footprint.”
“A family and innovation-centered company like TFC Poultry will find itself right at home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the birthplace of the modern turkey industry,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “I am thrilled to see new investment and the application of new processing technologies in our poultry industry. By building on our history while also looking to our future, we can help secure prosperity for another generation of Virginia’s poultry growers.”
“The company narrowed to this region due to the great access it offers to the I-81 corridor and to some of our key customers and suppliers,” said Chief Executive Officer of TFC Poultry Darrin Froemming. “We specifically chose Winchester, Virginia due to two primary factors: the first was the availability of all ranges of talent and that talent’s proximity to the new location; and the second reason was the embracing of progress the city demonstrated to the company throughout its due diligence stage. No other community held such an aggressive, yet genuinely welcoming reception.”
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the City of Winchester and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to secure the project for Virginia. Governor Northam approved a $500,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund and a $400,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund to assist the City of Winchester with the project. TFC Poultry is eligible to receive state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program, administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
Support for the company’s job creation will be provided through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a workforce initiative created by VEDP in collaboration with the Virginia Community College System and other higher education partners, with funding support from the Northam administration and the Virginia General Assembly. Launched in 2019, the program accelerates new facility start-ups through the direct delivery of recruitment and training services that are fully customized to a company’s unique products, processes, equipment, standards, and culture. All program services are provided at no cost to qualified new and expanding companies as an incentive for job creation.
“The City of Winchester is proud to have been chosen for the site of TFC Poultry’s expansion project,” said Mayor John David Smith. “The Winchester community and TFC are truly a perfect match, and we are excited to be a part of the Froemming family’s future.”
“We are delighted that TFC Poultry has committed to invest in building its operation in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and especially excited by its decision to locate to Winchester,” said Senator Jill Vogel. “TFC Poultry has chosen the perfect community for its employees, and we are eager to welcome the company.”
“We are so excited to hear that TFC Poultry will be setting up its business in the City of Winchester,” said Delegate Bill Wiley. “Not only is the company bringing vital job opportunities and revenue for the area, it is also repurposing a building that has sat dormant for too long. We look forward to having TFC Poultry operational and thriving in the near future.”
Supreme Court weighs Mississippi abortion law, future of Roe v. Wade
WASHINGTON — With a crowd of hundreds of activists gathered outside, the Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on a Mississippi law restricting abortions that challenges the nearly 50-year precedent set by Roe v. Wade.
The justices signaled that they were aware of the highly-charged political nature of the case. Many of their questions centered on how their decision could impact American society.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested the very legitimacy of the high court was at stake if it overturned its landmark ruling in 1973 that made access to abortions legal. She noted that sponsors of the Mississippi law said they proposed the abortion restrictions because there were new justices on the Supreme Court.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception – that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she said. “I don’t see how it is possible.”
The 2018 Mississippi law bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law is not currently in effect as the state awaits the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart argued the precedents set in Roe v. Wade and a later case, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, should be overturned and that the court should allow states to decide their own laws.
When Roe was decided in 1973, the court established a person’s right to abortion up to the point of viability, which is typically regarded as 24 weeks of pregnancy. In 1992, justices in the Casey case established the “undue burden” standard to determine the validity of state abortion restrictions.
Stewart argued that the “undue burden” test was difficult to apply and said that the justices should, “return the choice to the people.”
“Many people vocally really just wanted to have the matter returned to them so that they could decide it locally, deal with it the way they thought best, and at least have a fighting chance to have their view prevail, which was not given to them under Roe and then, as a result, under Casey,” Stewart said.
That step would not outlaw abortion nationwide, he explained, as many states would still choose to keep abortion legal.
But Julie Rikelman, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, argued that the justices should affirm two lower court rulings that Mississippi’s “Gestational Age Act” at issue is unconstitutional.
“Two generations of women have now relied on this right,” she said. “There is no less need today than 30 years ago or 50 years ago for women to make this decision for themselves.”
Rikelman said the ban would restrict a pregnant person’s liberty and bodily autonomy, which is protected by the 14th Amendment. She also said people rely on the precedents set in Roe and Casey that protect access to abortion.
Rikelman argued overturning the precedents would result in “forced pregnancies” and disproportionately impact women of color and other marginalized communities.
Associate Justice Elena Kagan said those advocating for the Mississippi law needed to show “a strong justification in a case like this beyond the fact that you think the case is wrong.”
“And I guess what strikes me when I look at this case is that you know, not much has changed since Roe and Casey, that people think it’s right or wrong based on the things that they have always thought it was right and wrong for,” Kagan said.
Elizabeth Prelogar, U.S. Solicitor General, arguing on behalf of the Biden administration, said “the real-world effects of overruling Roe and Casey would be severe and swift.”
Associate Justice Samuel Alito asked Prelogar, “Is it your argument that a case can never be overruled simply because it was egregiously wrong?”
“I think that at the very least, the state would have to come forward with some kind of materially changed circumstance or some kind of materially new argument,” Prelogar said. “And Mississippi hasn’t done so in this case.”
The Jackson Women’s Health case comes before a new Supreme Court with a 6-3 conservative majority. The justice’s questions seem to suggest that alterations to current abortion rights are imminent, though whether they will fully overturn precedent remains to be seen.
Associate Justice Stephen Breyer said he was concerned about the public’s perception of the high court as it wrestles with one of the most contentious issues in American life.
Breyer said the functioning of the court as an institution “comes primarily from people believing that we do our job. We use reason. We don’t look to just what’s popular.”
“The problem with a super case like this, the rare case, the watershed case, where people are really opposed on both sides and they really fight each other, is they’re going to be ready to say, ‘no, you’re just political, you’re just politicians,’” Breyer said, “And that’s what kills us as an American institution.”
Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh listed several cases in which the court went against set precedent, leading to the expansion of rights, such as the overturning of the “separate but equal” segregation standard in schools in Brown v. Board of Education.
Kavanaugh asked Rikelman “if we think that the prior precedents are seriously wrong – why then doesn’t the history of this court’s practice with respect to those cases tell us that the right answer is actually a return to the position of neutrality – and not stick with those precedents in the same way that all those other cases didn’t?”
Chief Justice John Roberts, a potential swing vote in the abortion decision, appeared to be looking for a way to preserve the Mississippi statute without overturning Roe.
“…If you think that the issue is one of choice, that women should have a choice to terminate their pregnancy, that supposes that there is a point at which they’ve had the fair choice, opportunity to choose, and why would 15 weeks be an inappropriate line?” Roberts asked. “Because viability, it seems to me, doesn’t have anything to do with choice. But, if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?”
After the arguments ended, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, joined pro-choice advocates on the court’s steps, warning that the conservative majority of the Supreme Court may deal a blow to reproductive rights.
“Justice is what this building is supposed to represent. Notice I said ‘supposed to represent, but the history of this court has not always lived up to that,” Bush said. “Today, we are here to say there is nothing just about a far-right Supreme Court determined to oppress us.”
J.C. Carpenter, a leader and sidewalk counsel with Christian-based pro-life organization 40 Days For Life, drove from her hometown of Marysville, California, to support the pro-life demonstrators in front of the court.
“I think there is an amazing pro-life turnout,” Carpenter told Capital News Service. “I think the pro-aborts are well outnumbered and I hope that that speaks to what’s going to happen with this case.”
At least 26 states are poised to ban or restrict abortion if the justices uphold the Mississippi law and overturn Roe, according to abortion research and policy organization The Guttmacher Institute.
The court’s ruling is not expected until next year.
By KELLY LIVINGSTON and NATALIE DRUM
Capital News Service
Maryland Governor Hogan announces COVID measures in face of omicron variant
Maryland is working to increase its capacity to track COVID-19 variants, Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced Wednesday, as a new variant is being found around the globe, including in the United States.
In an update at the State House, Hogan said the state “has one of the strongest variant surveillance systems in America” but will work to grow surveillance capacity in the face of the omicron variant.
In February, the state partnered with the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University to sequence “over 10% of all COVID 19 cases,” Hogan said at the time.
Sequencing can help “track the mutations of the virus,” Hogan said.
Hogan said the Board of Public Works approved spending for additional testing supplies that could help identify and track the spread of omicron and other variants.
Last week, the World Health Organization announced they had designated omicron as a “variant of concern.”
According to the organization’s website, “it is not yet clear” whether omicron is more transmissible or causes more severe illness than other variants.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced what they called the “first confirmed case of omicron variant detected in the United States” in California.
The CDC said the affected person returned in November from South Africa, where the WHO said the variant was first reported.
“The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive,” the CDC said in a press release Wednesday.
Hogan noted omicron is not the first variant of the virus and likely not the last.
“I urge Marylanders not to panic,” he said Wednesday.
Hogan emphasized the availability of PCR tests and increased the availability of rapid testing.
“Getting tested remains one of the most important things you can do,” Hogan said.
The governor especially encouraged getting tested “if you’re feeling sick and think you’re coming down with something,” as well as before and after travel.
Hogan also encouraged Marylanders to get vaccinated, and if they’re eligible, to get a booster shot.
In a press release Wednesday, Hogan announced Marylanders had received more than 1 million booster shots, bringing the total number of COVID-19 vaccines administered to well over 9 million.
There have been 10,987 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Maryland and over 580,000 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the Department of Health.
Nearly 700 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maryland, according to the most recent health department data.
That same data shows the percentage of positive tests averaged over seven days has been increasing recently, to 5.13%.
By ALLISON MOLLENKAMP
Capital News Service
Virginia War Memorial and Navy League to host Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony
The Virginia War Memorial and the Navy League of the United States, Richmond Council, will co-host the 80th Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony at 11 a.m. EST, Tuesday, December 7, 2021, at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond. John Maxwell, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (VDVS), will be the keynote speaker.
The annual ceremony will be held outdoors in the Memorial’s Shrine of Memory – 20th Century at 621 South Belvidere Street. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.
The Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony will include the presentation of wreaths in memory of the Virginians who died on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when the forces of Imperial Japan attacked U.S military bases in Hawaii, including the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. More than 2,400 Americans died and more than 1,100 were wounded during the surprise attack. Of those killed, 41 were listed as native Virginians.
“The name of each Virginian who perished on that fateful day will be read and remembered with the tolling of the ship’s bell from the USS Virginia, which is on permanent display at the Virginia War Memorial,” said Dr. Jay Fielder, president of the Navy League’s Richmond Council, who will serve as Master of Ceremonies for the annual program.
“We are pleased to continue the tradition of co-hosting the Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial,” said Memorial Director Dr. Clay Mountcastle. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s ceremony was held as a virtual event. We are pleased to return to an in-person format this year.”
The Memorial will be open to the public from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on December 7. The Virginians at War documentary film Pearl Harbor will be shown all day in the Reynolds Theater and visitors will have the opportunity to see the Memorial’s newest major exhibit, “Who They Were: Lives Worth Knowing” which includes a tribute to John Hildebrand, Jr., one of the sailors from Virginia who died during the Pearl Harbor attack.
For more information about the 80th Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony, please call the Virginia War Memorial at 804.786.2060 or visit www.vawarmemorial.org or www.dvs.virginia.gov . There is no admission charge to the Memorial or for this event.
About The Navy League of the United States
The Navy League of the United States (NLUS) was founded in 1902 with the encouragement of President Theodore Roosevelt. The League has grown into the foremost citizen’s organization to serve and support America’s sea services: the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and flag Merchant Marine. For information on the Richmond Council of the NLUS, please call 804.355.7557 or go to www.navyleague-richmond.com.
About the Virginia War Memorial
The mission of the Virginia War Memorial is to Honor Veterans, Preserve History, Educate Youth, and Inspire Patriotism in All. Dedicated in 1956, the Memorial includes the names of the nearly 12,000 Virginia heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf Wars, and the Global War on Terrorism. The Virginia War Memorial is and will always be the Commonwealth’s tribute to those who served and most especially, to those who died defending our freedoms. Every day is truly Memorial Day at the Virginia War Memorial. The Virginia War Memorial is a division of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and serves as an integral part of its mission in support of all Virginians who have served in our military. It is located at 621 South Belvidere Street, Richmond, Virginia 23220. For more information, please visit www.vawarmemorial.org or www.dvs.virginia.gov .
About the Virginia Department of Veterans Services
The Virginia Department of Veterans Services (VDVS) is a state government agency with more than 40 locations across the Commonwealth of Virginia. VDVS traces its history to 1928 and the establishment of the Virginia War Service Bureau to assist Virginia’s World War I veterans. Today, VDVS assists veterans and their families in filing claims for federal veterans benefits; provides veterans and family members with linkages to services including behavioral healthcare, housing, employment, education, and other programs. The agency operates two long-term care facilities offering in-patient skilled nursing care, Alzheimer’s/memory care, and short-term rehabilitation for veterans; provides an honored final resting place for veterans and their families at three state veterans cemeteries. It also operates the Virginia War Memorial, the Commonwealth’s tribute to Virginia’s men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice from World War II to the present. For more information, please visit www.dvs.virginia.gov.
New building on gifted land will bring trades classes to the Fauquier Campus
Construction of a new building dedicated to the skilled trades on the Fauquier Campus is expected to begin in February and be open for classes in fall 2022.
This opportunity to build a facility dedicated to trades education is thanks to a gift of 60 acres adjacent to campus from Fauquier County to the LFCC Educational Foundation. The college has been leasing space for trades instruction at Vint Hill, but that site is not ideal for those needs, and the lease expires in 2022.
With the new trades building, the college will be able to offer trades classes for the first time on the Fauquier Campus and even begin a new carpentry program. Other programs planned for the new 8,000-square-foot pre-engineered metal building include electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and heavy equipment operator.
“Providing career training and apprenticeships in the trades requires a custom-designed facility – we need flexible labs for hands-on learning, hard floors, high ceilings, state-of-the-art ventilation systems, multiple outlets and drop cords to accommodate the industrial and commercial training equipment, and more,” said Jeanian Clark, vice president of Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education. “That’s why this new building is such exciting news. And it couldn’t come at a better time. With the state’s investment in the G3, FastForward, and Re-Employing Virginians (REV) initiatives, enrolling in skilled-trades programs and high-demand career pathways has never been more affordable for students. Our area businesses and industries need our trades graduates.”
In addition to expanding trade offerings, the new facility will allow the college to explore partnerships with Fauquier County and Rappahannock County schools for potential new ventures, such as a trades academy.
“The expansion of trades programs on the Fauquier Campus is good news for the home construction industry,” said LFCC Foundation Board Member Joel Barkman, who is founder and president/CEO of Golden Rule Builders in Catlett. “By investing in the infrastructure to develop the next generation of building trade professionals, LFCC is a valuable partner in addressing the skilled labor shortage. I’m proud to support the college.”
The foundation, which will own the building and lease it to the college, has established the Building the Future Fund with a fundraising goal of $1.5 million. The money raised will go towards fully equipping the site; bringing in experienced instructors; expanding instruction to more fields within career and technical education, such as welding; offering scholarships, and more. There are naming opportunities for the building itself, as well as spaces inside.
For more information or to donate to the Building the Future Fund, contact Tami O’Brien, development officer, at 540-351-1046 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expansion of Smith Hall on Middletown Campus will allow for additional mechatronics programming
The expansion of Alson H. Smith Hall on LFCC’s Middletown Campus will allow Workforce Solutions to be able to expand its high-demand program in advanced manufacturing.
Workforce Solutions’ mechatronics program teaches students – and those already in the workforce and looking to upskill – how to operate and maintain the smart technology used in area manufacturing operations. Through hands-on learning, they will become qualified to work as electromechanical technicians, production technicians and industrial maintenance technicians.
“The Middletown Campus is situated in a huge manufacturing corridor, and we cannot satisfy industry’s need for a workforce skilled in advanced manufacturing fast enough,” Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education Vice President Jeanian Clark said. “It’s an equipment-intensive program. To build the full program out to the three levels of certified training our employers deserve, we needed additional space.”
That is why construction of a 3,500-square-foot addition to Smith Hall began in late summer. The project is expected to be finished by May, with Level 2 Mechatronics classes beginning on site in fall 2022.
Because mechatronics equipment is very sensitive to dust, temperature, and vibration, Workforce Solutions moved it the Emil & Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center in Winchester to protect it and keep classes running. Winchester Public Schools use the center for health sciences, professional skills and advanced technologies academies. Three labs in the center are dedicated to LFCC classes and feature glass walls.
“When students walk by, they’re seeing this very sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment which we hope inspires them,” said Clark. “What’s cool about mechatronics class is it’s all the sleek robotics and controls. It’s impressive equipment. We hope that will drive future interest in these students for these great careers with our local industries.”
Level 1 Mechatronics will be taught in the Shihadeh Center through May, she said.
“We are the very first workforce program statewide that has generated enough program revenue to invest in a capital facilities project,” Clark said. “Any of the profits we generated over and above paying the costs of the program, we’ve been able to save so we could reinvest in the programs our regional workforce demands.”
In addition to the Smith Hall expansion, funds are being reinvested in expanding technical space at LFCC’s Fauquier Campus.
The Level 1 mechatronics program currently offered by Workforce Solutions offers six industry credentials that students can complete in a year. Skills gained include understanding and safely operating and maintaining machines and processes, troubleshooting and addressing common issues in electromechanical systems, performing basic robot programming and operation, and operating and maintaining fluid power systems.
“Our classes are designed to fit a working student’s schedule,” Clark said.
The starting salary for someone who has completed Level 1 Mechatronics is about $40,000. After completing Level 2 mechatronics, a technician can expect to earn $60,000-$70,000, according to Clark. Those earning a Level 3 can expect an annual salary of $70,000-$90,000.
“There is also an opportunity for our mechatronics students to lattice with the credit side of the college to put them on the pathway for an engineering degree,” Clark said.
Even with the work going on at Smith Hall, Workforce Solutions has been able to continue to offer other trades programs in the space, including a four-level electrical program, as well as full HVAC and heavy-equipment operator programs. All of these trades programs, including mechatronics, are eligible for FastForward and G3 funding, making them very affordable for students and employers wishing to enroll their workers.