ANDERSON — Tobias Brisker has always loved the idea of building a career around working on cars, but he didn’t feel the same way about school.
He’s known he has wanted to work on cars since he was a little boy, but he generally wasn’t engaged in his traditional classes at Anderson High School. Since he entered the automotive service program at AHS’s Career Center, he doesn’t miss school nearly as much.
“I changed,” the AHS junior said. “I used to do a lot of bad stuff and get into trouble.”
He said traditional school work was challenging for him, but he’s much happier now doing something he feels like he is good at and that makes him happy as part of his education.
Madison County ranks 78th out of Indiana's 92 counties for overall health, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings. A few of the measures that impacted the ranking are related to the youth of the county, such as children in poverty and children in single-parent homes.
A new measure the County Health Rankings tracked this year is the rate of disconnected youth in Madison County. Disconnected youth is defined as people ages 16 to 24 who are not attending school and unemployed.
Madison County’s rate is 22 percent, almost 10 percent higher than the state’s overall rate of 13 percent. The highest performing counties in the United States are near 9 percent, according to the rankings.
Justin Rivas, associate researcher and community coach for the County Health Rankings, said while the statistic isn’t currently used to find the overall ranking, it may be in the future once the data can be collected for every county.
His general advice for any community wanting to lower the disconnected youth rate is to create opportunities to give young people better access to jobs, such as providing training opportunities, summer jobs and internships.
The AHS Career Center is doing just that, said Kelly Durr, director of the center. Students can choose from a variety of programs, including automotive service and collision, fire and rescue, emergency medical services and construction trades.
The career center has been reopened in this capacity for a couple of years. About 500 students are currently enrolled in programs at the center, and only about 45 students are from schools other than AHS.
Durr said as the programs continue to grow at the center, the number of students is increasing as well. The projected enrollment for next school year is more than 600.
Students can earn industry certifications that will help them get jobs straight out of high school, and they even have the opportunity to do internships with businesses in the community that have partnered with the center.
Durr described Kameron Amos, a junior at AHS, as very smart but not motivated despite being intelligent. He is hoping to get an internship during his senior year to continue to build his skills in the construction trade.
He said learning in the program has completely changed his motivation toward his high school education.
“I feel successful for the future,” he said.
While not being career-focused can contribute to the high number of disconnected youth, Durr points to a lack of employment opportunities that have existed in Madison County over the last several years and students seeing their parents struggle to find and retain employment.
Regardless, it is the career center and the high school’s joint goal to provide students with the resources and support they need to do whatever they want after high school. The career center is there to help all students, but students who may not want to attend traditional college benefit from many of the programs that get students work-ready before graduation.
“For a long time, there’s been a push that everyone has to go to college,” Durr said. “That is a mindset shift for a lot of people to understand. There are very lucrative, productive careers that do not require a four-year college education.”
Ryan Glaze, assistant superintendent for secondary, academics, and technology at Anderson Community Schools, said the career center isn’t the only initiative AHS has to help students be prepared after high school. The COMPASS Alternative School helps students who benefit from smaller class sizes and mental health supports. Students can also participate in credit recovery program, which is now coupled with the career center, Glaze said.
Emma Simer is a particularly motivated student who has benefited from the career center. She completed the fire and rescue program during her junior year and is now preparing for her emergency medical technician tests.
She said she always knew she wanted to be a public servant but she didn’t know what she actually wanted to be. Without the career center, she said, she may have not figured it out until she was much older and would have had to get the certifications she is now achieving then.
“This is the best thing to ever happen to me,” she said.