• More than 300 middle school students were given a chance to explore their futures during the first-ever Students@Work Day, a program partnership between Gaston County Schools and the Gaston Regional Chamber.

    Each of the county’s 11 middle schools was paired with an area business, and eighth grade students had the chance to tour business facilities, hear from company representatives, and discuss career options.

    The goal is to help students connect classroom learning with the real world of work, and help make them aware of the many career possibilities close to home.

    Students from Cramerton Middle School visited PNC Bank in Gastonia, where John Forgan, the bank’s senior relationship manager for commercial markets, explained the banking business. He encouraged students to develop career skills such as learning foreign languages,

    “Here in Gaston we touch a lot of different countries,” he said, explaining that many area businesses reach international markets.

    “You need to have interpersonal skills,” Forgan told the students. “The little things are the business-makers.”

    At GSM Services, students from Stanley Middle School learned about customer service, engineering and computer aided design (CAD), heating and air conditioning, and were able to watch sheet metal being cut at the GSM factory.

    Mark Benton, residential service manager, shared with the students how a community college degree started him on his career path, and explained that technology changes in the heating and air conditioning field will provide many job opportunities in the future.

    Joel Long, CEO of GSM Services, said his company appreciated the chance to take part in Students@Work Day and invest in local students.

    “It’s just a good thing to partner with the schools,” he said. “Anytime we can help kids at the middle school level to look at a career path and keep them in Gaston County, we’re glad to be part of it.”

    Organizers hope this year’s program will set the stage for an ongoing annual partnership.

    Students@Work is a statewide initiative designed to help middle school students think about their future with a goal of helping increase the state’s graduation rate. Created in 2011 by the North Carolina Business Committee on Education, it has already served nearly 130,000 students across the state. This is Gaston County’s first year to have all middle schools participating in the program.