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‘At the end of the day, we want to keep our students in the community’

Antigo High School works to promote its skilled trades programming to help address the gaps in workforce shortage struggles

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January 9, 2024

ANTIGO – Mike Parizek – the career and technology education (CTE) department head at the Unified School District of Antigo – said he’s amazed that very few members of the community, which even includes district parents, know about what is available to students through the CTE program.

“They have no idea we’re working on vehicles, we’re catering events, we’re building trailers – all of that stuff,” he said.

The high school aims to change that narrative with the introduction of an annual career and technology education open house – which it held for the first time late last year.

Parizek said conversations about holding some type of event that welcomes members of the Greater Central Wisconsin region – especially the business community – into the classroom to showcase what the school offers to students, have been happening for quite a few years.

“The idea stemmed from my former high school shop teacher Craig Cegielski who is teaching at Eleva-Strum High School now – he does an open house every year,” he said. “When I toured his facility eight years ago, it was cool to see that interaction with the community.”

Plans to start the event a handful of years ago were put on pause, Parizek said, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Launching it in 2023, he said, fit well with the rededication of the Wirz Greenhouse – which underwent renovations after suffering damage from a storm a few years ago.

“We figured we would do the rededication of that facility and the open house at the same time because it’s all part of the same department, and we figured it’d be a great time to get the community in to see what we do,” Parizek said. 

CTE offerings

Parizek said the opportunities available to students through Antigo’s CTE department are extensive.

“We basically have 10 different areas or career pathways available to students,” he said. “It’s real life, real learning opportunities we have in most of our programs.”

Starting with the agriculture department, Parizek said, it offers several animal science, horticulture and food science classes.

“So, they experience everything in the greenhouse to animals and everything else involved in that,” he said.

In the auto department, Parizek said, students have two different tracks they can explore.

“They have their small engine track where they start with an introduction to small engines class, and then it goes into advanced small engines where they start working on ATVs, snowmobiles, jet skis and outboard motors,” he said. “Then they have another track that focuses on automobiles.”

Parizek said in this track, students start with basic auto classes where they learn about oil changes and changing light bulbs and windshield wipers.

“Building upon that, then they get into Autos 1, Autos 2 and then the Red Robins Auto, which is the student-run business,” he said. “This is where they work on more advanced projects  – swapping out a transmission or a radiator or troubleshooting vehicles – working on customer vehicles during their classes.”

Students in the metals track, Parizek said, follow a similar pathway as the auto students.

“They have an introduction of metals – so, our freshman students here at the high school have a nine-week rotation and a few of the areas to get some exposure,” he said. “So, they do a lot of welding and a little machining in that class.”

As sophomores, Parizek said, students spend half of the year focused on welding and fabricating and the other half on machining using manual lathes and mills, “with a little CNC equipment mixed in.”

“In their junior year, students have the option of continuing with more advanced fabricating –  using a CNC plasma cutter, building different projects and learning different weld positions and processes,” he said.

As juniors and seniors, Parizek said students also have the opportunity to participate in the Red Robins Machining class – which again, is a student-run business course.

“When students start with this class, we have them apply for a job as they’re looking at their schedule for the following year,” he said. “We may have a shop manager position, an office manager, a CNC machinist, a welder, a plasma cutter operator – they apply for the job that fits their strengths, they go through the interview process and then we fill those positions that way.”

Parizek said students interested in the woodworking track can already begin taking classes in middle school – with skills and knowledge building through into high school classes.

“They start with small builds, like jewelry boxes, and then work their way up to more advanced furniture,” he said. “They also have a carpentry class where they learn all the aspects of building a house or a shed. The students learn all the processes from start to finish – from electrical to plumbing to framing to roof work.

Parizek said though the past few years’ classes focused more on building sheds than houses, he said the hope is for students to have the opportunity to build houses again soon.

The graphics track, Parizek said, starts with introduction classes and builds into more advanced offerings.

“They also have the Red Robin Graphics student-run business,” he said. “We do custom orders from customers all across the state – from lake maps to T-shirts, to coffee mugs. We also do a lot of posters and signage for local events around town.”

Antigo High School, Parizek said, also offers a culinary track through its family and consumer science department.

“We have an industrial culinary kitchen,” he said “There is a baking and pastries class, which is like the student-run business class where they serve coffee and pastries a couple days a week tied to our SkillsUSA program here. We also have our advanced culinary class, which is our two-hour class and they do different events – so if we have events going on at the school, sometimes there’ll be cookies or they’ll make bars. We’ve had a couple of events where they’ve catered some small parties here in town, like graduation parties.”

Also out of the family and consumer science department, Parizek said the school offers infant and toddler classes.

“Students learn about childcare and childcare career opportunities,” he said.

Under the same umbrella, Parizek said the school offers interior and fashion design classes, personal finance classes, as well as marketing, sports marketing and youth apprenticeship opportunities.

“We also have our architectural design and CAD programs – they stack some classes with different engineering and advanced engineering and work hand in hand with a lot of our other business classes to help us with some of the designs and drawings for customer projects,” he said.

The high school also offers media production classes, Parizek said.

“They learn about all different radio broadcasting and television broadcasting skills,” he said. “(Students in the program) cover a lot of our school events, go out and take pictures, run our announcements and cover our sports events here at the school as well.”


Parizek said the motivation behind launching the annual event is two-fold – letting the community know the opportunities available to students and what skills they can obtain through them; and showing students what opportunities are available for them in terms of careers.

“There’s such a worker shortage right now in every avenue – whether it’s our fire departments, our police department, our hospitals, welding, fabricating, automotive,” he said.

That, Parizek said, is where the high school can contribute.

The students within the walls of Antigo High School, he said, are an untapped source of potential in terms of workforce pipelines to help fill the shortage gaps.

Showcasing the CTE program, its offerings and the knowledge base students can obtain by the time they graduate through the open house event and the continued promotion of the department, Parizek said, is a win-win.

“We felt it was important we get the community in here so they know (what the school offers) so everybody knows what is going on, and we can grow our local workforce,” he said.

On the flip side, creating and maintaining partnerships with area businesses, Parizek said, will also help educate students about what opportunities are available to them in the community in terms of a career.

“We’ve been collaborating with our business partners, and we’ve been bringing them in trying to get them in more to talk to our students, and getting our students out to their facilities to see what they do,” he said. “Because they drive by a lot of these buildings here in the community, and they have no idea behind those doors. And at the end of the day, we want to keep our students here in the community. We don’t want them to be leaving (to find work elsewhere).”

For years to come

Parizek said the event’s first go, “was very successful” – with just under 1,000 people attending.

“Everybody who comes through says the same thing, ‘We had no idea you guys offered this stuff here,’” he said. “So, it was a huge success.”

The interest since, Parizek said, has remained consistent.

“We’ve had lots of people reaching out – emailing, calling – and asking if we can help them with different projects they have going on,” he said. “Asking if our students can make a sign or build a trailer – so it’s been a positive impact.”

Parizek said the district decided to hold the career and technical education open house on an annual basis, because “we don’t want people to forget about what we are doing here.”

No specific date is set for the 2024 open house, but Parizek said he anticipates it will again be held in the late fall/early winter.

For more information on the skills trade programs offered at Antigo High School, visit the district’s website at

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