Governor’s visit barely fazes Hart Center students

By: Dave Faries, Editor
Posted 3/24/21

Devin Van de Riet’s eyes widened and he turned to face the governor.

“Really?” he asked with a quiver of both disbelief and enthusiasm.

Governor Mike Parson was visiting Hester …

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Governor’s visit barely fazes Hart Center students


Devin Van de Riet’s eyes widened and he turned to face the governor.

“Really?” he asked with a quiver of both disbelief and enthusiasm.

Governor Mike Parson was visiting Hester Russell’s engineering class as part of a Wednesday tour of the Hart Career Center and had stopped at Van de Riet’s desk. The conversation turned to auto racing, one of Van de Riet’s passions – his father races, and it turns out Parson had, as well.

“You never know what this governor has done,” Parson said.

One might expect some pageantry to accompany a visit from the governor. The Hart Center has played host to many guests. It’s a unique vocational program that prepares students for jobs that are in demand.

In Craig Knight’s class, some students were coding while a more advanced student was busy hacking a program set up by the instructor. Cosmetology students styled and colored hair under the direction of Jacklyn Crow. There are classes related to medicine and agriculture, but the school also hosts an eSports team.

The Hart Center has a lot going on. So interested students and educators often funnel through the classrooms, at least in normal years. A gubernatorial visit – well, except for the trailing entourage of public officials, media and security, it was like any other day. For the most part students continued their work as the group filed in and out.

“This class has made a big impact on my life,” said Emma Nowlin, one of the students in Carley Ezell’s graphic arts course.

It’s a three-hour period in which students design real world projects. Moments earlier, Parson had asked what could occupy their attention for that span of time.

Rather than tell the governor, Nowlin led him to a computer to show him some of her work. She then turned to another monitor, only this one struggled to load her program.

“It’s slow today,” she apologized.

“We should get you a faster computer,” Parson said, chuckling. “They should send you some of that stimulus money.”

Of all the times for a computer to bog down. “It’s pretty crazy,” Nowlin observed after the governor left. “It’s still loading.”

There were few hiccups. In Knight’s IT fundamentals class, Parson approached Devin Cross with a question.

“How do you code?” he wondered. The response was silence as Cross processed just how to give a concise answer to such a broad topic.

And he didn’t really expect the governor of Missouri to approach seeking information.

“I was really shaky,’ Cross admitted.

Nerves are understandable, as is some excitement. The JAG -- or Jobs for America’s Graduates — class asked for a photo with Parson. “Have any money?” he answered, drawing a big laugh. In Russell’s engineering class, Van de Riet clearly got a kick out of his brief chat.

“Of all my students, he was the most excited,” Russell pointed out. “He said ‘can I hug him?’ I told him I didn’t want to see him taken away by security.”

But for the most part, there was an ordinary tone to the tour. As the governor heard from teachers and administrators and praised the center’s efforts, students kept on task. There was little mugging for the camera, no taking advantage of a chance to avoid their studies even for a moment.

“They’re usually on their best behavior anyway,” Crow observed. “They are here to learn.”

Nicole Skinner concentrated on coloring a mannequin of hair at her station in the cosmetology class. But she did look up briefly to examine the governor’s hair style.

“What would I do different? Nothing,” Skinner said, giving his cut a note of approval.

Much of the groundwork necessary for Parson’ visit had been done by the governor’s team and security (who appreciated that Van de Riet refrained from a hug). The students, teachers and staff did little to prepare.

“Did we do anything to get ready?” Lexie Willer, a student in the graphic arts class said, pausing to consider. “Oh – we cleaned up.”