BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
For the first time I can recall, if ever, the Fort Madison High School held a signing day for seniors who have been accepted to college trade programs, full-time trades positions, or apprenticeships.
I’ve always been torn on the value of publishing these types of events for simply selfish reasons. Both of my girls entered college with more than $10,000 in annual scholarships and they didn’t get a signing day.
They worked jobs or were in sports, drama clubs, band, all that type of stuff. So balance was as critical for them in their success as the athletes and now trades students who get special mention. But that’s the way it goes.
We do graduation coverage and award nights for seniors, but I think we can all stipulate it’s just not the same.
But I went to this signing day on Wednesday and saw something I wasn’t really expecting, but should have been because I’ve witnessed it before at Fort Madison High School.
It’s an understatement to say that Clint Kobelt is no slouch in Building Trades instruction. He, along with a progressive eye to the future from FMHS principal Greg Smith and FMCSD administration, has quickly built FMHS’ trades program as the best in the state, and probably one of the top programs in the country.
I told Greg Smith he should take out billboards and start recruiting kids into that program. It’s valuable, attractive, and open enrollment allows it.
I say best because Kobelt’s students have won state trades competitions the past two years and are going to a national competition in June. It’s not a guess, these kids are perennially smart with real world skills that take them from high school to a well-paying job, not necessarily the nightmarish debt of college. A debt bubble, I might add, I believe will pop in the very near future because in my small macroeconomic mind, the income potential does not clear the hurdle of the debt.
But what grabbed me on this occasion, and a couple others in my time covering FMHS, is the emotion with which this teacher talks about his students.
Kobelt literally stammers through public speaking because his emotions run so high for the kids he teaches. It’s a passion for teaching I haven’t seen since my mom, who taught for 32 years, had it when she first started. The flicker went out with her as a science teacher as mandated curriculum removed most of the one-on-one time with the students.
Kobelt seems to cling to that and is having tremendous success. Each of the four students that were honored Wednesday got a big hug from Kobelt who talked briefly about a project the students were going to see through, even it if meant staying past graduation to get it done.
“These guys said, ‘Mr. Kobelt, we said we were gonna do this and if it’s not done, we’re not leaving’. We’re not leaving. They worked their whole lives for this moment when the doors are open and all they have to do is walk out…. We’re not leaving. Who does that?!…,” he said rhetorically to the 30 people in the room.
“Who does that?!.”
The students included Dom Franz, Elton Kruse, AJ Nolting, and Brandon Keester. Keester was accepted to a Southeastern Community College program, Kruse was going to work right away for Carl A. Nelson, Frantz was going to work and then planned on entering an apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Nolting was accepted to a Kirkwood Community College trades program.
It’s not the recognition of the students that’s striking to me. We’ve written about all these boys….and this program as well, many times in Pen City Current. What was striking was the passion and emotion that Kobelt, as a public school teacher, exuded for these students.
In a world of Chapter 22s that have soured some teachers, social media influences that have soured some kids, and short funding that has soured us all, this man sees something else. A way out for kids without a way.
I was moved… by him being moved. I was moved to write about this man because as we search for, and are starved for, role models, he is one. Not just for students….but for teachers, too.
Graduation season is upon us. Congratulations to all the students crossing the stage this spring. We here at Pen City Current congratulate you on all your accomplishments, and we wish you well in each and every endeavor you take on. Take it from us… you never know what you’re gonna get.