PHOTOS: New center focuses on career exploration

  • Gaston County Schools is introducing new center for students to explore careers

    Last year, when a tractor trailer with the words “Be Pro Be Proud” displayed on the side of it made its first stop in Gaston County Schools, it inspired district leaders to begin thinking about how to establish a way for students to experience careers in a more permanent way.  

    (“Be Pro Be Proud” is a mobile simulation center that gives students insight into jobs in trucking, heavy equipment operation, welding, robotics, utility lineman, and other fields.  Click here for a video about its visit to Gaston County Schools in March 2023.)  

    Today, a section of the former Forest Heights Elementary School building in Gastonia has been transformed into the Gaston County Schools Career Exploration Center.  When it opens for the 2024-2025 school year, students in all grade levels (elementary school, middle school, and high school) will be able to gain hands-on knowledge of different careers.  Plus, students will be able to connect with local businesses to see how what they experience in simulation format translates to real-world job opportunities.

    The Career Exploration Center is a bright, open space that encompasses three classrooms and a commons area with various simulation stations.  The classrooms have large TV monitors for presentations and for students to watch other students who are participating in a simulation.  The stations include:

    • an Anatomage Table where students, who may have an interest in the medical or veterinarian fields, can learn about the anatomy of humans and animals using impressive 3D technology;
    • an area for students to learn about being a utility line technician; a student wears 3D goggles to get an understanding of what it is like to stand in a bucket truck while working on utility lines;
    • a SIMSpray unit that is used to train students virtually on how to paint/powder coat vehicles, buildings, exteriors and interiors, and various items; and
    • two units that simulate what it is like to weld; students practice welding techniques virtually and can see a score and other information that evaluates how well they did.

    Most impressive are three simulators that teach students about truck driving and operating heavy equipment such as tractors, backhoes, dump trucks, etc. and a simulator that looks just like an ambulance.  Students can climb aboard the ambulance simulator to understand what it is like to work as an EMT while other students watch via a monitor to see what is happening inside.  Additionally, there is space outdoors to show off heavy equipment, which is often done during “Touch-A-Truck” events.

    Brett Buchanan, director of Career and Technical Education (CTE) for Gaston County Schools, says ‘exploration’ is the key word in the new center’s name.  He envisions it being a place where students at schools across Gaston County can visit and be introduced to possible career options.  It is important for students to be exposed to careers early on so they can begin thinking about what is available to them in the workforce right here in Gaston County, says Buchanan.

    A number of local businesses have embraced the Career Exploration Center concept, and according to Buchanan, the business representatives hope it will spark students’ interest in high-demand jobs and contribute to having a future generation of highly-skilled workers in the local talent pipeline.

    Buchanan believes the Career Exploration Center is the first of its kind for a school district in the state, and it will be the envy of other districts as the focus on CTE and providing career-ready opportunities for students continues to grow.

    The Career Exploration Center is Gaston County Schools’ latest addition to Career and Technical Education.  From introducing CTE activities to elementary school-age children to leading the state in student-earned credentials, the school district has invested much time, energy, and resources into making its CTE program productive, meaningful, and beneficial for students.  

    Without question, Gaston County Schools is strengthening students’ academic success and their interest in learning through its growing and thriving CTE program.  The priority is to prepare students for a bright and promising future, according to Buchanan, and Gaston County Schools is achieving this goal through CTE and what it does to ensure that students are college and career ready once they graduate from high school.