More than 1,100 eighth-graders from 23 area schools flooded into the Whiteside Area Career Center last week and were pointed in a dozen different directions of potential career paths.
Jerry Winger, student services coordinator at WACC, said the number of schools participating in the tours, which were held May 3-5, has grown from 15 to 23 during the past seven years, allowing the center to reach out to more and more prospective students.
“They are getting exposure to all of our careers and much-needed skills they are going to use for the rest of their lives,” Winger said.
The tour guides were center students who volunteered out of a pool of about 630 high schoolers from throughout the area, most of whom were in the eighth-graders’ shoes just a few years ago.
“They’re proud of what they’re doing, and they’re sharing that pride with others,” Winger said. “It takes the whole building to put this together, and we couldn’t be more appreciative of their efforts.”
Emily Dawson, a Milledgeville High School senior studying criminal justice at the center, on Wednesday led one of the 14 groups of students from David L. Rahn Junior High School in Mt. Morris.
It’s beneficial to gauge the students’ interests early on, to help them find what career direction is best, Dawson said.
“It’s not just about how great these programs can be for their future; it’s about all the people they’ll meet, too,” she said. “It’s important to let them know how important it is to be around other people in a different element.”
Andrew Wolfe, an eighth-grader at Rahn, said that, from the “drug deal gone bad” crime scene to body armor and self defense offerings, the criminal justice booths were the highlight of the tour.
He was able to walk a tape line under the influence of “drunk goggles” fairly well – until he nearly toppled over.
“It was pretty fun,” he said. “The criminal justice was great, but I also liked the child care and the health care and the cars and some of the others.”
Joey Bardell from Aplington Middle School in Polo said Thursday that he enjoyed the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities class, in which students build and operate their own businesses.
Molly Salins, Forreston Junior High student, was impressed by the Early Childhood Education program.
“I’ve always thought teaching younger children would be a great career, and the WACC tour showed me the program was what I’m looking for,” said Salins. “They’re hands-on with their approach, which is how I like to learn.
Echoing the hands-on preference was Forreston’s Ryan Schoonhoven, who loved the Automotive Technology.
“I hate just sitting in a classroom and reading to learn,” said Schoonhoven. “I’m always helping me dad work on cars, and I’ve known I wanted to work with on them professionally for a long time.”
Some Forreston students preferred to keep their hands clean and work in the arts field. Madison Sketo said the Digital Media Arts program left a lasting impression on her.
“I’ve always loved photography, and the photography work in the digital media lab looked really cool,” Sketo said. “I got to see some of the students’ work, and it was great.”
Salins and Schoonhoven agreed they definitely plan on applying to WACC as soon as they can, while Sketo is taking a pragmatic approach, waiting to see if her interests change over the years before making plans.
Something for WACC to consider is finding a way to bring the Cosmetology program to the tour, or vice versa.
“Several classmates wanted to see the Cosmetology program personally, and were disappointed that we couldn’t,” said Peyton Knight, Aplington Middle School student.
The students will get another sampling of the center’s programs in 2 years, after their interests are further developed.
“When these students come back as sophomores for another tour, we like to see if their future career tastes have changed,” WACC Director Paula Rademacher said.
School participating in the tours included Ashton-Franklin Center, Amboy, Aplington, Bureau Valley North and South, Challand, Christ Lutheran, David L. Rahn, East Coloma/Nelson, Eastland, Erie, Faith Christian, Forreston, Montmorency, Morrison, Ohio, PLT Middle School, River Bend in Fulton, Rock Falls, and St. Anne in Dixon.