By Wakisha Bailey

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As graduation gets closer, some high school students are looking into other options outside of college. Just over 30 young men at Father Judge are part of the first graduating class of the high school’s new welding program. 

Most of the students are forgoing summer break to start work. 

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As part of our series, “Focusing on the Future,” Wakisha Bailey takes us inside the welding shop.  

“Just to get into this program was life changing,” Jabriel Lopez said. 

Lopez spends the first two hours of his school day welding.  

“Someone kept saying, ‘We’d get out of Spanish.’ I was like, ‘Oh wow,’” he added.  

Group Of Students Set To Become Graduates Of Father Judge's New Welding Program

His classmates Daniel Figueroa, James Jones and Kyle Weist are part of the 2022 graduating class of Father Judge High School for boys. They are not only getting a high school diploma but they are certified welders, thanks to Mr. Joseph Williams.  

Williams is a welding specialist who says skilled trades are slowly making a comeback.  

“If you can teach a young man to read blueprints at 17, that’s marketable,” Williams said. “Everybody is leaving here with a career that is well deserved, making upwards of $70,000 a year. Everyone will be certified.”

At the end of this three year program and over 1,000 hours, students will have earned an American Welding Society and OSHA safety certifications.  

“I’m going to L3 Harris,” Lopez said. “They do military contract welding.”

“I’m going to DC Fabrications,” Figueroa said “It’s a government company that helps with the U.S. Navy.” 

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And Kyle and James in the hard hats are going to Holtec International in Camden, New Jersey.  

“They do welds for nuclear reactors,” Kyle said. 

Although this is the first welding class to graduate in the Archdiocese of Catholic Schools, this will also become the  gateway for other trades.

Group Of Students Set To Become Graduates Of Father Judge's New Welding Program

“We are set to begin construction on a 20,0000 square foot, $8 million building, the career pathways academy, that will house not only the welding program but we will bring in automotive, HVAC, building trades, CNC machining into the new building to have multiple layers,” Brian Patrick King, the president of Father Judge, said.   

And soon these four will be gone, working as skilled welders.

“I know that I’ll be getting a good paying job and that I’ll definitely be able to retire earlier than most people because I won’t have to work for as long to make the same amount of money,” Lopez said. 

Lopez and his fellow classmates’ journey started inside the small shop with 30 other aspiring welders and Mr. Williams. 

I can’t believe these boys are already talking about retirement. They haven’t even begun working yet. You’ll be happy to know they are choosing to stay home at least the first three years and save money before getting an apartment.

Group Of Students Set To Become Graduates Of Father Judge's New Welding Program

And in Wakisha’s story, you saw a student working on a CBS3 sign, the students call it, “The eye that knows.”

It was cut free hand using plasma arc cutting and it took three days to make in between classes. It’s a beautiful gift, and we’ll be happy to display it here at CBS3. 

Know an outstanding high school senior that deserves recognition? Let us know by completing the form below and we may select the student to be featured in our “Focusing on the Future” series. 

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Wakisha Bailey