- Southwest Middle School
Academy offers career exploration for students
Career Academy opens students’ eyes to future job possibilities
It’s never too early to look to the future. While some people believe that high school is when teenagers start thinking about what kind of career they want, students in the Gaston County Schools Career Academy begin considering various job possibilities while in middle school.
The Career Academy, one of the district’s school choice options, is at Southwest and York Chester middle schools. The middle school programs lead to the Career Academy at Hunter Huss High School.
At York Chester, students are able to explore careers in areas such as scientific visualization, game art and design, and business and technology. At Southwest, middle schoolers can focus on career exploration in the areas of family and human services and business and information technology.
Kristin Lanich, the media specialist at York Chester, sees the difference in her students when they’re really enjoying what they’re learning about.
“To watch them get interested in a field for the first time is really fun,” Lanich said. “They get really excited about it. Technology is so much of their lives so for them to realize they can actually create that world is really cool for them. And, it’s cool for me to see, too.”
Diane Gibson, the family and consumer sciences teacher at Southwest, recognizes the “lightbulb moment” in her students as well. For example, watching her students cook scrambled eggs on their own is something that Gibson says they might have never done before. To see them realize they can do it is a highlight.
“When you see them realize they can do things they haven’t had the opportunity to do, it’s neat to see how proud they are when they’ve done,” Gibson said. “When they’re cooking and they see the finished product, they are proud to say, ‘I made that from scratch!’”
And, the “lightbulb moments” don’t stop at the middle school level. When going on to the Career Academy at Hunter Huss High School, students have the opportunity to get involved in a wide range of career areas, including instructional management, business, early childhood education, family and consumer sciences, health sciences, trade and industrial education, public safety, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Sarah Chase, the health sciences teacher at Hunter Huss, points out that a lot of the career fields can be related.
“In the health science pathway, I try to share other career opportunities with them,” she said. “Doctors and nurses aren’t the only jobs in healthcare. There are dieticians and physical therapists and so many more jobs. If students are interested in becoming a dietician, they can get experience in the foods classes in addition to taking health sciences classes.”
Chase says the Career Academy is great for getting students in the work mindset if they want to go directly into a trade or certified area after high school.
“College isn’t for everyone,” she said. “The Career Academy shows students that they can take a variety of paths. You can take a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification for free in high school and work while going into nursing school, and that applies to any of our other pathways as well.”
Chase added, “Our students are getting career experience and certifications, too. They’re prepared and have a plan and a goal, which really puts them ahead of some of their peers.”
Lanich says that seeing students realize they’re really good at something and that they may want to do something in that field in the future is an eye-opening experience.
“When they notice they’re good at a skill, it really changes their perspective about themselves,” she said. “We tell them every day that you can be anything you want to be, but you have to be open-minded enough to try it first. Watching them think through that is awesome.”
Gibson stresses that no matter what students are trying for the first time, they should always do their best, no matter the task.
“That’s what employers will want from our students one day, and that’s what we want as teachers, too,” she said. “All you can do is to do your best and don’t be afraid to try new things.”
“You get what you work for, not what you wish for,” added Chase. “There’s a sign in my classroom that says that. Students learn early on in the health sciences courses that it’s hard work. You’re going to have to put forth the effort, but it will pay off in the end. I want my students to know that the harder they work at something, the more it will benefit them in the long run.”