COAL TOWNSHIP - Walking into the Northumberland County Career and Technology School (NCCTC) Thursday evening during its open house was like stepping back in time for Alen and Mary Straub.

The Shamokin couple haven't been in the building since graduating from the school - 1976 for Alen from the masonry program and 1977 for Mary from the textile program. The school just celebrated its 40th anniversary.

"A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same," Mary Straub said after an hour of touring the childcare, automotive, electrical, welding and protective services rooms.

A new program that wasn't offered 35 years ago is Mike Bradley's welding class, which provides students with training and offers students internationally recognized certification testing for free.

There's also the new Patricia C. Rosini Greenhouse in the culinary arts program, taught by Jim Schiavoni, that's maintained by the students at the school. There's also a library and a computer lab, the Straubs said.

Mary Straub said she's surprised there aren't more courses offered, but admitted the programs seem to be high quality.

What hasn't changed is some of the decor - the tiles and the lockers have remained the same, she said.

Having a vo-tech school in the county is a positive thing, the couple said.

"If you can't afford to go to college, this gives kids a good start and teaches them so many things to get into jobs," Mary Straub said.

"It's almost better than college, if you get into electrical or welding," Alen Straub said.

More than 100 people attended the open house during which instructors and aides highlighted the 10 programs, said James Monaghan, NCCTC administrative director.

As part of the night, the culinary students provided food and students took photographs of the night for the yearbook, he added.

In each classroom, instructors explained the curriculum to parents and potential students to entice them to attend the school and enroll in their programs.

Steve and Alicia Gross and their son, Derik, a sophomore at Shamokin Area, spoke with Matt Dunn, protective services instructor during the tour.

"It's interesting, and there's a shortage of young people going into these trades," said Steve Gross.

His son said he liked what he had seen during the open house.

"You can get hands on, and not just learn it from a textbook. You can get real knowledge of what to do," he said.

Jack Brown, another sophomore at Shamokin Area, said he wanted to continue the legacy of his father, the former Shamokin City Police Cpl. John Brown.

"He always does what's right, and he does what's best for the community," the younger Brown said.

The protective services program, which trains participants in police, fire and EMS capacities, would give the high school student the foundation of skills he needs for his future career goal of a military medic, said Dunn.

"I like that he's going to get his EMT training. He'll be a step ahead in the military," said John Brown.

Denise Brown, Jack's mother, said she is proud of her son and his future plans.

"Where else are you going to get the training, graduate and then be able to work?" More should come here," she said.