PALMETTO -- The first vocational school opened in Manatee County in 1963 with welding, auto mechanics and small engine repair classes for men and nursing and cosmetology courses for women.
When Manatee Technical Institute's 50th graduating class received diplomas Sunday there were 10 times as many programs, illustrating the complexities of the modern world.
A mother and her son were among hundreds of students who graduated Sunday with Florida general equivalency degrees earned online with the help of a special instructor.
Amber Osmun, 36, and her son, Joey Knowles, 18, each took the GED prep class on computers at MTI's north campus in Palmetto with the help of instructor William Gaynor. It paid off as they each walked across the stage at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in caps and gowns.
"We couldn't have done it without our computer-assisted PLATO learning program and Mr. Gaynor," Osmun said prior to the ceremony. She was speaking of the online GED courseware called PLATO.
"Take away either and we wouldn't have made it," Osmun added.
Mother and son said they sat in front of computers seven hours a day, five days a week.
"The PLATO uses videos, animation, sound bites and Mr. Gaynor fills in the blanks," Knowles said.
The north campus had a 100 percent GED pass rate in 2014, according to MTI officials.
Joey Knowles was out of organized school from the end of sixth grade to the end of 12th grade, basically being home schooled, his mother said. He had to do quite a bit to catch-up.
His mother said she passed the ninth grade in Colorado.
"I wanted to be able to do better to support my kids," Osmun said, speaking of sons, Joey, and Zane, 3. "I needed to get my GED to do that. We found out that Joey could do it with me, take the GED and graduate."
Now she has earned her GED, the world is opening up for Osmun, she said.
"I didn't feel I was smart enough to pass the GED test," Osmun said. "Friends told me I was. What finally happened is that I got confidence to be able to do it."
Passing the GED has invigorated Osmun, she said. She has enrolled in a certified nurse assistant program in Sarasota, finished much of the course work and will soon take a test to be a certified nursing assistant.
"I heard I can earn between $14 and $16 per hour, which is so much better than the minimum wage I am earning now," Osmun said. "It's pretty hard with two kids. I'm on my own. I have to pay our bills. Now I will be able to give them a better life."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.