When the Whitfield Career Academy hosts the first-ever regional career fair for middle and high school students at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center on May 4, it’s expected to draw close to 200 vendors and 8,000 students.
Career Academy counselor Robert Broughton, who also teaches psychology at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, said he’s coordinated small career fairs at Westside Middle School and seen others set up at area schools. But this will mark the first time the county school system has organized something for students in the Whitfield, Dalton, Murray, Gordon, Walker and Catoosa school systems.
“We have 14 high schools and 183 vendors confirmed so far,” Broughton said last week. “The governor is tentatively coming.”
Broughton said Career Academy leaders are working to introduce students at early ages to the variety of careers available to them. Any Whitfield or Dalton student in at least eighth grade is invited to the career fair, and juniors and seniors from surrounding counties are also invited. Home schooled and private schooled students are welcome.
The entire trade center will be rented out for the day with sponsorship from several businesses, and several speakers are lined up for seniors to hear throughout the day.
Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black is scheduled to speak as are senior executives from Shaw Industries, General Electric’s renewable energies division and a couple of generals from the Georgia Army National Guard. There will be plenty of information on STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields, Broughton said.
Kristin Bernhard, an education policy adviser to Gov. Nathan Deal, said STEM education will be one of Deal’s top education priorities this legislative session. Some $19.4 million in federal funds for STEM education is being doled out for schools, colleges and businesses around the state to partner together. Whitfield Career Academy educators learned in December they had received $2.6 million of that to hire more teachers, build labs and expand offerings.
“We believe very strongly we need to beef up our supports in this area,” Bernhard said.
State Schools Superintendent John Barge visited the Whitfield Career Academy in May to announce plans to require all students to complete career pathways, a series of classes focusing on a certain area, in order to graduate. Barge said on Friday he will ask for more time to roll out those plans, which were to have begun this fall, since the state is also implementing a new national curriculum that will impact how some of the courses are taught.
Barge said the focus on career and technical classes will help make education more relevant. State officials are looking to move away from an emphasis on judging schools based on the ability of groups of students to pass standardized math and English tests as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
“Quite frankly, with No Child Left Behind, in many instances the focus became passing a test and as long as we could get X number of students passing a test we’re OK ...” Barge said. “Well, I think we all know that we can get students to pass a test but they may be anything but ready for college and careers.”
The Career/College Fair set for May is designed to expose students to all kinds of opportunities beyond high school.
Already, several companies are promising to bring some of their equipment to demonstrate. Broughton said there are plans to have helicopters and some Volkswagen assembly line equipment at the fair. A company that specializes in high-wire electrical techniques will also be on hand.
Broughton said it’s those kinds of unusual jobs that he wants students exposed to. He turned to his computer and opened a video clip in which a line worker performed maintenance on an electrical line while standing in a helicopter. The worker wore a special suit that allowed the electricity to pass around his body rather than through it.
“This is the kind of stuff I show kids — things they never knew existed,” Broughton said. “Kids take away a whole new idea of what they can do. They learn about things they never knew existed.”
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