By the time a student becomes a high school sophomore, he should be giving some serious thought to future careers and a way to gain the skills to prosper in the workplace.
About 850 sophomores in high schools throughout the county gained some eye-opening experiences Tuesday at the Career Industry Days conducted by the Merced County Office of Education's Career and Alternative Education Department.
Some 150 industry professionals and representatives from trade schools, colleges and universities filled the Exhibit, Pavilion and Commerce buildings at the Merced County Fairgrounds for the 5½-hour program, which consolidates several separate events. Fifteen industry sectors were represented at Tuesday's event.
"In your sophomore year, you are supposed to think about what area you want to go into in the future," Kathy Wyman, Regional Occupational Program coordinator, said. "As sophomores you may not know what you want but this will open your eyes on things you may not have known existed."
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Take the fashion industry, for example.
Donna Acheson teaches ROP courses at Merced High School, including creative design and fashion. She said a tremendous number of students are interested in the fashion industry, which is becoming a growing career field.
Acheson's students are able to design contemporary fashions through an industry-based computer-aided design program. Students taking the fashion courses are able to earn fine arts credit for enrollment in the University of California and state college systems.
One of her students, 17-year-old Alexis Hill, wants to proceed to advanced schooling in New York and become a designer. Fashion has always been her passion. She has sketched clothing designs and has sewn her own outfits, but she didn't realize it could be a fulfilling career until her high school days.
Steve Gomes, Merced County superintendent of schools, said Career Industry Days is a highly useful event and a way to expose students to the workaday world. "Students don't realize how much variety is out there," Gomes said. "Not everybody goes to college. The Merced County Office of Education's goal is to promote a college-going culture and access to career development. This has my full support."
Mike Lazar teaches art and animation classes at Hilmar High School. He said there are many facets of art people don't realize are available fields of employment. There are jobs in fashion design, the gaming industry, advertising and designing gemstones, among others.
"Art is all around us," Lazar said. "With the focus of core classes, you forget how important art is. Kids really enjoy this kind of subject matter. This is something you can do all your life and not grow out of it."
Joe Gaestel teaches regular business and ROP virtual enterprise classes at Merced High School. A virtual enterprise is a simulated business environment in which students learn how to start a business from scratch.
Gaestel said we are seeing a resurgence in career technology, and students are exposed to what's involved in owning a business. Personal finance, accounting and finance, advertising sales and marketing aspects are covered.
Jenny Hunger also teaches virtual enterprise, computer accounting, business occupations and technology at Dos Palos High School. She said the career fair was a great opportunity for students to practice communication skills and public speaking.
Jason LaChance teaches ROP marketing classes, including sports and entertainment marketing, at Golden Valley High School. Also a part-time radio broadcaster, he said Career Industry Days offer sophomores an amazing opportunity to consider their options and develop a career path.
LaChance said he left high school and took six years of college before he knew what he wanted to do. Growing up in the Castroville area, the only technology courses available years ago were woodshop, electronics and auto body.
Dos Palos-Oro Loma Joint Unified School District superintendent Brian Walker said he was very impressed with the event. Dos Palos brought more than 100 students.
Marissa Kettenbach, 17, of Dos Palos wants to attend San Diego State University and major in business or forensics and start her own business. She said while the economy is not doing that great, future students will be able to change it.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.