By Scott Yates, The Progress-Index
PETERSBURG — About 175 students from Peabody Middle School and Blandford Academy and roughly 900 Petersburg High School students got a chance to meet face-to-face with career professionals from around the Tri-Cities Tuesday during the first annual Career and Technical Education college and career fair.
Dr. Kim M. Allen, the career pathways coordinator of Petersburg Public Schools, said the purpose of PHS’s CTE program and its career fair is to expose students to a variety of industries and to help students narrow their interests and abilities to a specific career or secondary education pathway.
Teona Henderson, the fair organizer and a family and consumer science and early childhood education teacher at PHS, said the event gets students talking about the next step after high school with industry certifications to turn graduates into employees.
“We want our students to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from, there’s something after high school,” said Henderson. “We don’t want them just to graduate and sit at home. We want them to take care of themselves and go to that next level.”
That next level may include an employment or a secondary education path in any one of the 25 industries or nine Career and Technical Education programs offered at Petersburg High School that were represented at the fair.
Students walked amongst tables and displays by vendors from industries including automotive, finance, health care services, colleges and trade schools and others. Also in attendance were representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Takaylia Mason, a senior studying cosmetology and fashion marketing said, “If students came into the fair not knowing what they wanted to do, there are people you can come to talk to.”
Arnajah Jones, a PHS student in a health and medical science class, was one of several students who donned scrubs and wore a stethoscope around her neck at a CTE booth in the back of the gym. She said the program changed her post-high school outlook.
“At first I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do nursing. But when you get into the program it takes you to different places and different ideas. You actually try different things. You really start to reconsider it, like, this is really what I want to do because it’s so interesting.”
Sean Monts, a family and consumer science educator who teaches culinary arts at Petersburg High School, set up a small demonstration kitchen at which his students donned white coats and sanitary gloves to dice and sautee sugar snap peas, other vegetables and quinoa for students and vendors to eat.
Monts and students Shanequia Smith, a junior, and Ahlyia Brown, a sophomore, sauteed the vegetables in front of a crowd of students.
Monts said his students respond well to the hands-on lessons which teach them skills directly related to the working world. Many of the students currently working at fast-food places apply class lessons to their jobs. For example, Monts teaches a “ServSafe” certification for foodservice managers; about 85 percent of his students pass the class the first time they take it.
“This fair helps students recognize and develop what they want to do,” said Monts. “Understanding that every student is not going to go to college, we need to have that fallback plan” while the student figures out his or her long-term plans.
Keith Brown, a machinist at Rolls-Royce Crosspointe facility in Prince George, and a 1984 graduate of Petersburg High School, sat behind a table to share information about the high precision manufacturing he does. Brown lauded the career pathways provided by the high school, trade schools and the local industries that hire students from those schools.
Although the pipeline wasn’t as strong when Brown was in high school, he did matriculate through the technical schools at a later stage in life. It was that experience he was eager to share with those who visited his table.
Organizers were already looking towards next year as the a group of students filtered into the gym for the last period.
“Next year we want this bigger and better,” said Henderson. “Next year I really want to show off some of the small businesses right here in Petersburg.
“CTE is on the move,” said Henderson. “We are growing.”