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Students gain work skills in program

POSTED: January 22, 2013 12:29 a.m.
Autumn Vetter/

North Forsyth High School student James Berry operates a loader at Kennemore Wholesale Nursery as part of the Forsyth County school system’s Work-Based Learning Program.

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James Berry would rather be working with plants and heavy equipment outdoors than pencils and paper in a classroom.

Luckily for the senior at North Forsyth High, the Forsyth County school system allows him the opportunity to do both.

Berry is one of many high school students throughout the system taking part in its Work-Based Learning Program.

Through the program, Berry spends his mornings in class and his afternoons working at Kennemore Wholesale Nursery in south Forsyth.

“I’d rather be here than sitting in a classroom,” he said of the plant nursery. “It’s just the environment. It’s fun to be around all these people and help customers, and it’s different every day. We don’t fall into the same routine.”

School system employees Genise Tworek, director of work force development, and Valery Hall, career development coordinator, said there are many students like Berry, who are more hands on than classroom settings sometimes allow.

And to help those students prepare to enter the work force, some new programs are expanding.

“Career pathway is a huge buzzword that you hear a lot nowadays,” Tworek said. “The mission of career tech is to link academic and technical skills together for students to prepare them for life after high school … and to find productive careers so they can be productive citizens in our community.”

The pair talked about the school system’s Work-Based Learning Program during a recent meeting of the North Forsyth-400 Rotary Club.

They explained that the district is working to create more opportunities for students to gain real-life work skills while still in high school.

With the system’s Workforce Development Initiative, students can choose one of 12 career pathways. They include: Agriculture; business and computer science; broadcast/video production; cosmetology; culinary arts; and education.

The other pathways are: engineering and technology; family and consumer science; health care science; JROTC; automotive technology; and marketing, sales and service.

There are nearly 7,100 high school students taking part in the various paths this year, according to Hall.

Work-based learning is a component of the Workforce Development Initiative, which places students in internship opportunities with local businesses.

Students take part in internships in their chosen career pathway, Hall said. For example, a student in the engineering pathway would take part in work-based learning at an engineering firm such as Siemens or Hansgrohe, while a student in the health care science pathway could intern at Northside Hospital or Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“Anything you can dream, we’ve got students out in the community doing,” Hall said. “But we have a lot of students. So as our requirements change and what we’re accountable for, our intent is to get as many students as we can connected in the community to what they hope to do as a profession.”

Tworek noted that expanding the work-based learning program helps keep high school dropout rates low.

“One of the reasons we have so many dropouts — and not here in Forsyth, but across the country — is that kids feel so disconnected,” she said. “And so with the Workforce Development Initiative, it’s given kids the opportunity to take what they’re learning in high school and actually apply it.”

Hall said the school district needs more local businesses to provide student internships or help with tasks such as participating in school career fairs or mock interview sessions, as well as offering students “job shadowing” opportunities.

“We want to make [businesses] aware of what we’re doing in terms of career development, specifically at our high schools,” Hall said. “There are a lot of cool things we’re working on.

“We’re staying pretty busy, but the main thing … is to strengthen our advisories with local businesses.”

Businesses also benefit from having local high school students from the program.

Andy Kennemore, the fourth generation owner of Kennemore Wholesale Nursery where Berry works, said the relationship is mutually beneficial.

“It gives us all a new perspective and gets young people in here to help get them interested in the business to help further it and pass it on to the next generation,” he said. “A lot of people now don’t care as much about landscaping, they want to do other things. But it’s nice to have some new people out here.”

 

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